Cardboard Cathedrals and Working the Shire

view from dining space

 

NOTE: I was kind of uninspired to write… and then everything to got exciting and I just haven’t caught up with myself. So I’m writing this one now and I plan to back track in my spare time to fill in the missing weeks – it’s ok, I’ve taken notes as I go!

We are currently staying in a solar powered, own water supplied, off the grid timber house just outside of Little River in Banks Peninsula which is the big sticky out bit on the map next to Christchurch itself. It’s a really lovely place (which is a mahusive relief after the last one) as there are more villages and people around in general in the area; but this is due to the earthquakes which struck Chch and damaged most of it so people moved out but not far. It feels more homely and as its the home of an Architect and a Counsellor you’d expect nothing less! The surrounding hilly and agricultural landscape genuinely reminds me of the Shire on a hot summers day before Bilbo’s Eleventy First birthday party with the wooden fences, wild gardens, dusty gravel drives and sun soaked fields. Randomly, Kurt, the architect, also reminds me of one of my old university tutors in appearance and mannerisms and an old house mate in dress style and drinking preferences! It’s bizarrely familiar to be around. They have a 23 year old daughter who lives in an apartment down the drive in the barn, unfortunately she pushed herself too hard through an illness at uni and now has ME as a result. They also have a 16 year old Jack Russell named Lucy who is super cute as she prances across the floorboard with a little wheezing – she also moults like no tomorrow!

kitchen, dining, quiet sitting/social room

morning view from the deck

Here, our tasks are predominantly gardening. We’re helping to relandscape the front drive by digging holes for and planing 120 agapanthus bulbs along the slight hilly ditch, tidy up the vegetable garden and keep the grass down, weeding all the beds and around the barn and then to actually clear the barn out as they’re going to be having a party there to celebrate the barn being completed soon – but it’s full of the tractor and it’s accessories at present so we’re going to get our farm on.

We work either 4 hours a day, 5 days a week or we can do a couple full days to get extra days off – they’re pretty flexible. They also like us to join in watching their programmes in the evening if we want and to watch the news with them which is quite interesting to see, it’s much nicer than home! The presenters are allowed their own opinion and be a bit more cheeky which can be hilarious, and they’re much more chatty than ours back home too. Also the topic of conversation across NZ are altogether more pleasant and not as consistantly heavy going which is refreshing! For example, interviewing people who love oysters as the Bluff Oysters happen to be getting bigger as a main feature.

Little Akaloa, North side of Banks Peninsula

We’ve had ourselves a couple of beach afternoon trips so far in our stay when the weather has been just too hot to do sweet f.a. The first was a 25 minute drive away to a place called Little Akaloa. Not to be mistaken for Akaroa. This is the name of the French based settlement on the biggest bay in Banks Peninsula which we are yet to visit. Little Akaloa is a tiny community who live on one of the most beautiful coves. There are a few houses, a Maori inspired church and a small beach which has refreshingly chilled teal water lazily rolling over it. The other cove we went to is called Tumble Down by the locals. This is due to a strange stack of rock which stands proudly at the mouth of the bay despite being very open to the elements out that far. The cove itself is less pretty than Little Akaloa but the waters are a tad warmer, less surf and shallower so you can swim out quite far before loosing your footing. Strangely with this one is that between where you can park and the beach is a field of cows who have free reign over the beach if they like as there are no barriers – consequently this lead us to temporarily believe that a cow had got stuck in a cave as we could hear this grunting mooing sound coming from the rocks as we swam past. As we got closer however It turned out to be a couple of fur seals! Oops.

Today we went into Christchurch for the first time. We went today because it was the opening ceremony of the Kapa Haka festival. This is a Haka festival in which groups both celebrate Haka and compete against one another to be the best of the best. The festival is over 4 days and happens once every 2 years in a different location each time – this year it happens to be Christchurch. There were hundreds of people on the green in the botanic gardens, many Haka groups and Maori tribe warriors to initiate the beginning of the celebration. Traditional greetings and offerings were made to chanting and singing by both parties along with an acceptance Haka (I think, this is what I’m guessing it means but we’re hopefully going to a Maori experience day at some point in our travels so I’ll be able to tell you for sure) and then there was an awful lot of long speeches by either party, both in The Maori tongue so we didn’t understand a word of it but it sounded pretty cool all the same. Occasionally people would start laughing at what was said, so me and my fellow surrounding onlookers nervously giggled along with the rest of them. Then fell silent pretty quickly again to watch.

 

We didn’t stay for the whole thing as it was getting pretty hot. So we headed out of the gardens into Christchurch to have a look at it. It’s was definitely both better and worse than I was expecting. Worse in that despite the fact the earthquakes hit 4 years ago, there are still buildings in the very centre of town which are abandoned and crumbling, half standing, cables fraying out the ends of destroyed concrete slab floors and being supported with steel beems and buttresses and being knocked down with shattered or no windows and graffiti everywhere – I mean, I’d heard it was bad, we all did, but wow, kinda very post apocalyptic in some areas.

 

Having said that, other areas are thriving and look either untouched or are coming back to life with a new view on things. For example the botanical gardens and most along that west side of Chch are looking beautiful, well looked after, look as if nothing had happened. There’s a small river that runs through the centre which literally looks like a slice of Cambridge which it apt due to it being situated between Cambridge Terrace and Oxford Terrace along its length. Again, something that has survived the quakes well and been looked after. The other parts I mention are  like the Re:Start shopping centre aka The Container Mall. This is basically a space in the centre which has now got food and clothes and gift shops but all made out of various shipping containers! It looks pretty sweet in my opinion. The idea is that it can move as the land get developed again but that there is a main hub for people to go to. Every container, or collection of containers, is a different colour and all the different types of shop are mingled together rather than put in groups or areas to make walking around more interesting. This mingled with more street art and instalments like tables with solar tops and sub ports to charge your goods is all a little controversial so we’re told as before the quakes it was a very conservative city – it’s all change now. If slowly.

The other really cool thing we went to see today was the Cardboard Cathedral! Just on the outskirts of the city centre stands a tall, long pale prism. Japanese Architect, Shigeru Ban, was asked and designed the supposed tempory building after the neo-gothic cathedral in the centre of Christchurch was a big casualty in the quakes, taking down pretty much the whole western wall with giant rose window and some of the North wing with it. This new cathedral to stand in its place until it is restored is very different from the original. A vast toblerone constructed of cardboard tube framework, wrapped in a translucent sheeting. Everything inside is either wood or cardboard apart from the curtains and candlesticks. At the front it has a rainbow of a stained glass wall depicting various images from the bible as you walk in the door.

It’s the coolest church I’ve ever seen. It’s so light and peaceful.

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What are men compared with rocks and mountains…

the Mitre on the Milford Sound

Backtrack 2.

If only Jane Austen had been to South Island New Zealand.. I wonder just how much her mind would have been blown by this sight let alone just Derbyshire after writing those famous words.

Moving on from the Catlins, we drove up to a place called Te Anau which is on the edge of the Fiordland. The drive itself was great. As we moved on up and across the country the mountains of the Fiordland and The Southern Alps began to appear and dominate the skyline. I thought this was super cool as I’d never really seen mountains before, or so many! Snow capped and jaggard and stretching as far as the eye could see from our spot on SH’s 6 and 94. Emily had found great amusement in my excitement over seeing the mountains get closer and closer and eventually being able to drive right along side them. Te Anau itself is situated right on a glacial lake on the boarder of the Fiordland National Park so it’s pretty amazing. As soon as we got to the hostel we dumped our bags, got changed and headed out to have a look around and to chill out after the drive. It was so tranquil but the place had life to it. For Southland it’s a well populated town with residence and tourists but its empty enough to still feel unspoilt. We hung out on the water front for a while then went back for dinner and an early night as the next day we were to head out in a tour to see the Milford Sound.

lake Te Anau

 

painting the view

Early next day we headed out on the bus. It turns out we were to get a lot more from our tour than we thought! The coach driver was funny and chatty and stopped off at loads of places on the way. We got to see the mirror lakes, glacial waterfalls and crystal clear rivers which had that iconic bright electric blue colour that goes with it. We also had to pass through the Homer Tunnel which is 1.5km long and is carved right through the base of the mountain to be able to access the Milford Sound. It was a bit unnerving driving so slow for so long in near total darkness but also really cool. You have to wait about 20 mins each side for the stream of traffic to make their way through before your side takes a turn.

When we came out the other side though we were greeted by a barren bowl of crumbling brown/grey rock which gradually turned back into green forest as we descended and weaved our way down the side of the mountain. Eventually we broke through and were at the edge of the water. It was truly stunning. Magnificently high and deadly steep slopes greeted our eyes and the water just glistened peacefully. We were incredibly lucky to have not just a dry day, but a sunny day – we were told that on average it rains 300 days out of the year around Fiordland and most of those dry days are just cloudy when it’s not pouring down.

Milford Sound Cruise

 

The cruise lasted about an hour and a half and we were given lunch and tea or coffee which were very welcome as the air was still quite cold. The hot drinks were especially welcome after they had driven us head first into a waterfall in the shady side of the valley! It was so much fun but oh wow was it loud and windy and cold and we just got drenched! However this was our own faults as you could choose to go out onto the front of the boat and have this done or be sensible and stay inside…but…who wants to sensible when you can do that?!

After we reached land again we hopped on the coach back to Te Anau with more great location stops on the way including one where we climbed down to one of the glacial rivers and filled all our water bottles up. I’ve always considered water to be boring, but I have to say, clean and straight from the river, it’s stupidly good.

Emily stood by the glacial river we drank from.

To finish off our time in Te Anau, the next morning before we left we went on a horse trek over some hilly farmland to the east of the town called Westray Farm. There were 8 of us and 4 guides. Depending on how much we had ridden before, and from what they gathered about your personality from chatting you us, we got paired up with our horse for the morning. The people that ran the farm were very friendly and extremely helpful! It was great when my horse was this lovely and gentle chestnut brown old boy called Hamish. He had clearly gotten used to the trek as I barely had to control him as he knew where he was going which was so nice. I also couldn’t help but think of the view I had from the back of Hamish was like that of riding a horse in Skyrim – this made me smile to myself a lot. The trail lead up the hills on the farm and came out with this amazing view over Te Anau and the lake and the forest covered mountains… Yup. Real life Skyrim.

me and Emily in Te Anau

 

Best quick attempt on my iPad i could be bothered to do

After this we went back to the hostel, collected our stuff and the car ready to drive up to Queenstown. We ended up taking two German girls that had stayed in our dorm who were also going to Queenstown. They had planned on taking the bus around and hadn’t managed to get seats on the day they wanted so we agreed to give them a ride as we were all heading the same way. They were really friendly and gave us some road trip sweets and some money for fuel. We listened to music and chatted with the sun blazing and windows down, just really chilled which was great. We made pit stops along the way once we reached the bottom end of Lake Wakatipu (New Zealand’s longest lake on which Queenstown is half way along) as it had some great views from look out points. We soon made it to Queenstown, dropped the girls off and went to find our own hostel. If anyone is heading to Queenstown, I recommend staying at Bumbles backpackers. They’re great. Right on the water front, just to the west side of the town centre without being in it. The dorms are clean and they have stupidly good views over the lake. The staff were fab and the social space had everything you want.

view om my top bunk iat Bumbles

What to say about Queenstown…? Personally I loved it. Having been away from the human population so long it was great to be around so many people. Finally, a town that functioned and had life and was sophisticated, cool and fun. There’s loads to do there from places to eat to extreme sports, days out and casual walks. It’s a place with a great energy which has not been spoilt by human activity and I think sits really comfortably where it is. It’s a busy bustling place but it’s small enough to not harm the landscape. You’ve still got all your mountains, lake and fields surrounding you. I’d happily move there right now. It’s my favourite town.

One of the exciting things we did in our stay in Queenstown was to go on a Lord of the rings tour!! We stopped at a couple of places on the way too but the main part of the trip took us up the lake to Glenorchie a tiny village at the top of the lake. The tour’s main biggest locations were on a farm (just past the village) known as Jimmy’s Farm, who now rents his land out to movies when they ask as it’s such a beautiful setting with mountains and rivers and fields. Here is where you could see where not only the mountain pass Caradhras scene (Frodo drops the ring, Boromir picks it’s up..they end in in the mines of Moria afterwards) was filmed but the scene scape for Isengard! A few other scenes from tLOTR and various films were shot here such as where Merry and Pipin walk with Treebeard to council, Beorn’s house from The Hobbit, the home of the old couple in Wolverine, and a few horse galloping scenes from Narnia. Also just before you reach here is where they filmed the Dead Marshes along with where Sam and Frodo see Oliphants for the first time. Super cool! We also had lunch near where they filmed Boromirs death scene in the Fellowship.

the dead marshes

 

Isengard!

Whilst in Queenstown there were two things we had to try out (other than bungy jumping which sadly we had to miss out on but I’ll explain that in the next post..). They were the Ferg Burger and the Luge. The Ferg Burber was something everyone who knew we were going to Queenstown said we had to try. Boy were they right. We waited 20 mins in line, then a bit longer for it to be cooked to order. I ordered the Chief Wiggam which was pork belly, hash brown, onion, lettuce and garlic sauce. It was incredibly scrummy *big silly grin* Emily got one called Sweet Bambi which was also very delicious. We took these and sat on the waterfront outside our hostel with beer and cider and watched the day slip over the mountains. The next day we tried the Luge. Now, my best description of this is real life, gravity driven Mario Kart! It’s super awesome zooming along at the top on a giant hill overlooking the lake. You take the gondola up and then the chair lift. Then it’s just smooth sailing, or not, depending on your ability to let go.

Ferg burger on the water front

chair lift up to luge

me at the top of a big slop on the faster track on the luge

 The hut on the Roundabout.

 

This is what we stayed in for 2 weeks…

Backtrack blog 1

We had been staying on the boarder of the Catlins for the last two weeks of our time in Southland. I have to say it does have some really beautiful and cool places to see and explore, truly. The coastal landscape is rough and beautiful, full of rugged cliff faces, sandy beaches and vantage points. But, I mentioned last time how there weren’t many people and actual shops about in Invercargill and how it was kind of remote… I take that back. Where we were at this place, well, let’s just say that statement got cranked up. Solitude was going to be my best friend. The New Zealand South is somewhat incredibly sparse so it’s something I was just going to have to adapt to and expect everywhere we went.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think it’s really cool to stay/work/live somewhere pretty remote so long as when you go to the nearest village there are functioning shops that supply the things that you need. Also that there are some people to interact with. Oough, not here. The nearest “village” was 10km away down one of the many gravel roads, and it consisted of a handy man who has a gas pump out the front, a shop which mainly sold crisps and ice cream and was also the “chippy”. There was a tavern – but was decorated like an 80’s conference room (suspected original), a random boules green and a handful of dusty bungalows. Not so convenient.

Slope Point

 

McLean Falls, Catlins

On the way to this new WWOOFing placement from Invercargill we decided to stop off at a few known tourist spots. These turned out to be most of the good ones too so we ended up going back to a couple a few times more. The first place we headed for was Slope Point. This is the most southerly point of the South Island and after here it’s just sea until you hit Antarctica – that’s pretty cool! To find it, you have to walk right to the cliff edge through a field, off of a gravel road to where there’s a well loved and weather battered yellow road sign. It indicates how far it is to the equator in one direction and the South Pole in the other. Here you are closer to the South Pole! It’s quite a beautiful coastline all along the Southland’s Catlins. It’s so weather beaten that it’s full of character where the waves have bitten out chunks of rock to reveal layers of history in the cliff face. 

We also went further along the Southern Scenic Route to the McLean Falls. It was about a 20 minute tramp (trek to us Brits) through indigenous forest along the side of the river following up stream. It was really beautiful when we arrived. The setting appeared like a naturally made room of slimy moss covered walls and chiselled platforms. The Water was draping in ribbons off of the various ledges which brought cool air down from the high drop off point above us.

We then made our way to our new wwoofing placement. This was called the ‘Aurora Downs’ with the Smith family: Shiela, Rata, Slade, Mitch and Tea and their nephew Troy. This was a sheep and beef farm. The house was lovely, beautifully decorated and tidy as Shiela was really into her interior design. We did not stay in the house but were given the shed-turned-hut on their roundabout on the drive way.  It was actually quite nice and resembled something out of an ikea catalogue. Our daily tasks every morning at 8am, before breakfast, was to feed and water the pigs, feed the chickens and water the greenhouse. After this, it varied day to day. We mainly did housework and baking for them and a little bit of gardening. We did however get the opportunity to help out with the sheep!

If you can imagine, we got stuck in with shepherding the sheep from the field into the paddocks. This was in order for them to be organised by sex, age and then size or just simply to get dagged (sheer the poo from their backsides to prevent diseases). This involved us making noises and waving at the sheep to be able to move them in the right direction, occasionally moving them to help point them in the right direction and lean into them when they were being stubborn – poo up your legs and on your hands was guaranteed – lovely. I did also successfully stop a run away sheep in its tracks by basically rugby tackling it to the floor and sitting on it. They’re stronger than they look and not delicate at all!!

moving the. sheep down the road to the next field

On our time off we went off to go and explore more of the Southern coastline. We ended up driving up as far as Nugget Point which was a headland with a lighthouse and a few stacks dotted about like stepping stones out to sea. It was incredibly windy! We could just about take off our centre of gravity in order to lean into the wind as it battered and slapped everyone of us that was stood out there. Needless to say we didn’t stand out there for too long… 

We also stumbled across a small little place tucked away along the main scenic route road right along the South Coastline. It turned out to be the most interesting stop we were to make in our time along the Catlins. ‘The Lost Gypsy‘. This was an old van, a huge old camper with dark forest green paint and flowers and bold lettering painted on the side in the style of a gypsy caravan and inside it had been turned into this museum of trinkets and interactive objects that this guy (sometimes refered to at the Organic Mechanic) had made for fun. Out the front he had created a sign which announced that it was there to “reward the curious”. We were both fascinated! Everything was made from scavenged and recycled metal, wood, shells, toys you name it and was powered by either wind, solar, water or with help from the human hand. There was a train which zoomed around the room making steam noises as it went, invisible paint covered penguins making footprints, these water wheel contraptions called gurglers made from two different shells which when turned scooped water and made this light bubbling popping sound which we both thought was really cool! There was also a book which showed un-useful Japanese inventions from the 90’s which had a selfie stick in it – little did they know they were ahead of time with that one. There was much more as it lead outside into the garden which had been transformed into a ‘curious theatre’ for people to wander around and have fun in, prodding, poking and getting their hands on or just to be amused by. For example there was an upside down teapot with a button and a label underneath that said ‘press for randomness’. At this the bush beside the teapot trembled and vibrated. I could go on but there’s lots. It’s just mega cool and if you ever go there, you must go and see it!

Nugget Point

 

Invercargill – don’t stop believing

After leaving Stewart Island, we hopped on a bus the other side of the ferry and were driven into the city of Invercargill. Here we were to spend a couple nights and a day there to buy a car and prepare for going to our first WWOOFing place the following day.

Well, what to say about Invercargill…it was built with far too big ambitions for such a small population and as a result, it’s a soulless shell of a city which resembles something between an isolated settlement you see in an old Wild West film and a once, briefly loved yet now abandoned, sea side town. About 50% of the shops on the high street are shut, closed down or just plain old empty. The place was also built with cars in mind so everyone drives everywhere as its all spread out. This means barely any pedestrians and rarely do you see a cyclist. It’s an actual apocalyptic ghost town. But it’s a city. There are very few differing in job opportunities there too, you either work in one of the small independent shops of not much (which seem to be everywhere), you sell/fix cars or like the majority of the towns population you work in meat packing or are a sheep slaughterer like the guy who we had just bought our car off of.

Inspiring isn’t it…?

There is one thing in that blip of creation which is actually not too bad and that’s the city gardens. There’s a park there which is pretty large and has a variety of spaces and gardens along with some animals in a mini zoo-type-park and in an aviary. There was also an enclosure with a prehistoric animal called a Tautara. A lizard but more dinosaury. The one we saw was born in the late 19th century. He was pretty funky but just sat there behind the glass. Poor thing. There’s also the supposedly famous water tower in the town. I think it’s famous because there’s nothing much else here. The architecture of it is pretty but that’s it as far as I’m aware.

Most people just pass through Invercargill as we’ve found out. Keith Richards is apparently quoted for having called it “the arsehole of the world”. Bit harsh but I can kind of see where he’s coming from on that one. So far the most lively and biggest group of the people we saw was actually in the McDonalds. It’s positively thriving with kids and grown ups. This is where we were sitting awaiting the car to be fixed a couple shops down the road when I started writing this. It’s also the most modern looking of places here and is stupidly cheep compared with home. FYI you can also get a $5NZ large pizza from Dominos…that’s basically £2.50 to you at home..! How unfair is that compared with our £15?!

We made friends with a couple of the girls in our dorm room on the second night which made the whole thing a bit better. They’d come in from Canada and had been to New Zealand before so gave us a few good places to add to our list and shared some of their stories. Like us they’d just got a car but had never driven in NZ before. They were struggling with driving on the opposite side of the road big time – they had managed to drift sideways on the road to “avoid” oncoming traffic and ended up crushed their headlight into a pole on the sidewalk at pretty much walking pace. As bad as this was this did make us feel better about our own international driving sensibilities! There was also a French guy and a Californian girl amongst those in our dorm who I also got talking to. He was just there between college courses and she was there just to get away from the cities. It was just really nice hanging out and swapping our stories so far and we enjoyed the fact that we’d all pretty much had the same issues in different places and got to laugh about it.

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After this (and the faff with the car: transferral of international money, fixing and time and many other things) we headed on out to our first WWOOFing hosts, Francis and Fritz. Well, the house is huge! No joke. 4-5 bedroom around a central gallery/atrium/hall with 2 sitting rooms, a library, family eating room and a formal dining room and then loads of cupboards and washrooms and a library and an indoor pool and a dance room in the basement and a bathroom which had the shower, toilet and bath all in separate spacious rooms within this room. The people are the absolute loveliest. They both had Dutch heritage and moved out there separately when they were much younger. They’re a couple who had 5 grown up (and nearly all married) children and owned just sheep now having just been in the process of selling their dairy farm. The sheep were in their back garden (more like grounds) and our job, as it turns out, was to help prepare the garden for landscaping which in turn was in preparation for their last child’s wedding in 7 weeks time. We cleared a hell of a lot of over grown garden and also laid down some tarps which were then filled with 7-8 tons of pebbles. Thankfully Fritz used the tractor to bring most of it over, but we then had to move and distribute it evenly around the house by hand. Also mulched and planted and sewed grass seed as well as wire brush reclaimed tiles which were being laid for Fritz’s tractor to sit on next to the barn.

The food was amazing also! Everything was either grown in their garden or freshly brought in from the butchers. Apart from 4 meals in 2 weeks, I hadn’t eaten anything ridiculously processed and if I had it was basic foods like pasta, milk and ice cream. Everything was from scratch and everything was so good. The other places had a lot to live up to. I’d definitely put the weight back on I stressfully lost before coming going out there!

We went for a walk in Riverton during the week. This gave us chance to get out the house and grounds and see some more of the Southland. Although Riverton was small, it’s the nicest place down there I think we’d seen so far. Much nicer architecture, the people actually liked being outside and hanging out with each other and that just made it feel alive. It was also there that I managed to get sunburnt quite badly too…

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We’d had a coupe of extra WWOOFers join us at the house on Friday. A coupe of German students, a boy and a girl, soon to be off to university after a gap year travelling. They were really nice and started off really quite shy despite having been in the country since September, working and camping their way across NZ. It was really nice to have some people the same age about actually – when you’re out in the sticks and haven’t really seen many people, let alone your age, since you landed in Auckland, you realise how important it is to help you feel yourself. I was sure it would change as we headed up the country but at that moment we we’re further south than many casual travellers our age tended to go so would have to suck it up for now.

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An Island named Stewart

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Since our day trip out from Auckland, we’ve flown down to Invercargill via a half hour stop in Christchurch and then we sailed for an hour across to Stewart Island (this was on Monday 12th). The water started out actually ok but soon got very choppy and we were riding on what would probably be ok waves for the big ferries across to France, but this was no cruise vessel, so we noticed it a lot more… My stomach didn’t like it. Luckily not sick but very much felt it standing out the back clinging on to a handle so as not to be thrown sideways.

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We’ve now also learnt that the locals on the island say that the journey across is “either an hour of misery (meaning the boat) or 20 minutes of pure terror” (meaning to take the plane which looks like it could be a remote control toy). We eventually arrived into the calmer waters of Halfmoon Bay. Arriving into the one and only settlement, Oban immediately made us think we were arriving at Jurassic Park. The coastal forests were so dense and just fell into the water like those opening scenes….

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Our hostel was pretty cool. Pretty much what I imagine a surfer’s coastal pad to resemble. Maps on the wall, artwork, books, DVDs, wooden furniture with cushions and beanbags with a decked area on the side along with a sheltered fire, seating, dartboard and BBQ area and a couple of hammocks.

We spent one night here before heading out on The Great Walk (which is actually one of many dotted about the country). Just because we could, and we wanted to say we had, we decided to start the walk from Oban itself instead of get a lift to the beginning of it. This did add another 8ish km onto the beginning of our journey (to which we also added another 3km at the end to walk back to Oban from the end of the trail). Once we reached the starting point, the first part of the trail to the first hut was 8km and was supposed to take about 3-4 hours, we managed 3 hours. It was great but a little more effort for anyone, who like me, grew up on absurdly flat ground in the fens all their lives.. There was no flat land. So that kept it even more interesting as the path mainly clung to coast line; whether that be at beach level or 100m up a cliff – and we got some amazing views. So after starting about 10am, we made it to the first hut about 4 and settled in.

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The huts themselves were much better than I was expecting. There were two bedrooms with chunky wooden bunk beds and bunk platforms along with a separate living/dining/everything room space all joined up by a porch that ran around the outside and we had a couple of “toilets” down a path – not so glamorous – and a water tank which supplied us with fresh rain water to drink. This was also where I experienced my first New Zealand earthquake. It was about 2am and shook us enough that a fair few of us woke up – so nothing to worry about – but having been woken up in the dark to what seemed the whole world quivering and not being used to it I may have freaked myself slightly and stayed awake for a bit after that! Fine in the morning though!

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The second day of walk was also the longest of actual track being 13km, but was the shortest day of walking as we cut the 6 hour estimate down by an hour. This was also the day which we climbed most, reaching approx. 183m on slightly boggy, really-quite-steep-for-a-“casual”-walk type mud and gravel paths. Slips did happen, and many 30 second uphill trudging sessions were followed by pauses for breath to then be repeated till we reached a few peaks in the path – we’re clearly cut out for this!

The path itself was cutting across land to the next bit of coast across so we were just walking through forest the entire time. It wasn’t as scenic as day 1 where we could hear and see the sea, but it was pretty interesting and much less windy! The whole forest seemed to change every 500m or so – it was weird but cool. For example there would be intensely dense ferns and spindly silver barked trees all damp and close and then we’d be walking between these huge, spaced out old trees with thick trunks, barely any ground cover and quite dry and next we’d be in a maze of looked like creaking hollow sticks, dead straight and threatened to snap if a wind swept through.

Long story short, trees are weirdly cool 🙂

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The second hut was much like the first but just had bunked sleeping platforms so could actually sleep a couple extra people. This was also set on a bay which to Emily’s delight was covered with muscles – although we tried cooking them and only a few worked. This was not where I tried my first muscle…

Here we also got talking to a trio of trampers (walkers) who had come down from Christchurch and they told us all their stories of places around the country they had been and where to go and best things to do. One of them works as a lecturer for an environmental course at the University of Lincoln, NZ, so we felt we had things in common to talk about (having studied at the University of Lincoln, UK, and wanting to do more sustainable work). So that was fun.
What was not so fun was that this is where we were properly introduced to the Sandfly… Oh wow do their bites itch!! I managed to get between 9 and 12 on each leg and a couple on my arms. Nearly a week later and they’re still itchy as hell and there doesn’t even seem to be anything for it in NZ anyway – grinning and bearing!

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Day three of the walk was actually really pleasant as far as flatter land was concerned. Only a few hills to scramble up and this was more of a mix of coastal and forest walking. We would actually have finished it really early but we stopped off for an hour at a point which protruded out into the water for lunch and we were joined by a couple of the people who were in the same hut as us as they reached the spot as well. When we made our way back to Oban, we celebrated by having some wine and chocolate 🙂 and then enjoying an evening in the only pub with a couple of the other hostel guests.

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All in all the great walk on Stewart Island I would recommend. But if like me your ankles aren’t used to walking at angles for very long with you carrying the extra weight of a pack on your back, you might want to practice some how before hand. Also don’t be ashamed to have only taken bare essentials with you like we did. There will be families going and yes, they will have decided to pack a huge 90lt bag with wine cheese and crackers and many unnecessary home comforts – crazy to carry that around with you in my opinion!!

The last thing we did whilst staying on Stewart Island was to get a boat across to Ulva Island. This is a small island to which they aim to have no predators so they can help endangered birds flourish again. It’s also home to a few kiwi birds which was our aim for going! We hopped onto the water taxi at 9 in the morning and the skipper who literally looked like a tall Hobbit, (cotton waist coat, rolled up sleeves on shirt, moss green trousers and longish grey curly hair) sailed us across and left us there for 3 hours. Our tickets across were also fun, they were written on leaves which we had to keep to prove we’d been taken across. We didn’t get to see a kiwi, but we heard one near us – just really clever at not being seen. We were however able to see loads of other native birds which inhabit the island which was really cool. The grey robins actually came within a foot of us and said hello, most others a bit more wary. We then cam back across on what can only be described as the sea having a tantrum. We ended up clinging on for dear life as the Skipper drove the teeny tiny boat over waves only to smack down as we fell off the other side of them. We were also going along at pretty much a 45 degree angle which was also terrifying. He even commented at the end that that was more excitement than he needed!

But we made it alive, and kiwi-less.

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Flying, The Biggest City and Spontaneity

Kia Ora!

Lots to cover as I’ve been pretty rubbish at getting going with this blog so I hope you’re sitting comfortably…

So it turns out that flying 11 hours with the turn of the Earth is as you’d expect, pretty long and boring, pretty trippy but also has moments of being pretty cool. For example it was about 2:30pm home time when we flew over Moscow in the dark with it all lit up like a spider wrapped in fairy lights reaching for miles. Also being able to whiteness night bleed into morning before its even 11pm back home was one of the more surreal moments.

Auckland itself is a really friendly place with lots of shops and restaurants. The harbour is probably the best bit, in my opinion, as you get chance to look out across the water or the city scape instead of being enclosed by tall buildings; because of this just nice but limited space, Saturday was probably one of the best days I’ve had for a number of reasons.

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Emily and I had begun to feel pretty penned in by being in a big broad city and having only done practical and necessary things to help get us set up and done nothing which even whispered at adventure. The city itself is so big but actually with very few attractions and things to do unless you have money for the shops and bars. So we headed downstairs in our hostel to the booking tours and information centre to ask if there were any good day trips that we could just go off and do. The next minute before we had really registered what we were doing we’d booked to go on a day trip to see a few water falls, a stop off at our drivers house for a drink and to see the view and then go for a chilled out relaxed session on a beach down the road. This was leaving in 1 hour and was actually at a pretty good price. It worked out about £28 each for what was going to be an 8 hour day trip. We turned out to be a mini group of 6 and then our driver which was nice. The first place we stopped off at was actually the information centre for the area so we could learn about the culture and history of the land we were going to see and be driving though. Also this centre had a stupidly good view over the valley and out to sea.

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We then took what can only be described as the curliest, winding, dramatic-drops-off-to-one-side-into-near-virtical-forest type roads known to mankind. These are the kind of roads which are as wide as Cornish country roads and also 10x as crazy. But we soon made a stop off at our first waterfall. It was like a mini rock pool hidden away between some twisted gnarly trees more than anything but was pretty. The second waterfall was just a smidge further down the track from where we were. This one was more of your stereotypical waterfall! Tucked away down a small track between the trees. We came to a clearing and the falls appeared just opposite with a shallow, wide pool which we went paddling in which was great as tit was about 25 degrees just before mid day.

After heading back to the car, we headed off to our driver’s house which was on the way to the last waterfall and the beach. His house doesn’t half have a view! The architecture is very basic, most of the houses in the area are all prefab design cubes which you can shuffle about. He and his girlfriend/wife had bought a small square of land on one of the highest parts of the hill over the bay and built this home. It was lush. He also brought us out a small cup of his home brew beer – best beer ever (for me anyway who doesn’t like it too bitter). Mega refreshing and made with a bit of lemon in it too. Super refreshing, light and scrummy.

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Next stop was the biggest and last waterfall. We had a 25 min walk from where we got dropped off to the actual waterfall itself. Easily done it jandals (Kiwi word for flip flops and sandals) but kind oh hilly and a few things to scramble over. Well worth it though because this place was ace! A 3 tiered waterfall which we went swimming underneath. The water was absolutely freezing. Had to get my breath back after getting fully submerged before actually being able to swim about. We also had a gander at a couple of the pools just down stream. Emily managed to nearly stand on an eel whilst having her photo taken – made her jump so much she lost her flip flop in the process of getting out its way and the eel nearly claimed it for its own. We got it back.

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After tramping back to the car park we were dropped off at, we had another 25 minute walk to the black sand beach. We stopped for food at the fish and chip shop on the beach car park for lunch first. We were recommended the fish burger by our driver. The best, most delicious thing ever I kid you not! Two Snapper fish fillets crossed over shredded lettuce and mayonnaise in a bun. So. Darn. Fresh. So. Darn. Tasty. Drools. At. Thought.

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To round the day off, we spent about 3 hours on the beach. A fair chunk of that was spent in the sea itself. First time in the Pacific so that I was also exciting! We all waded out to where the surf was pretty lively but the water only came to no more than lower chest height, and we just jumped over the waves and body surfed with the current. It was fantastic. The sea was really quite warm, super mega clear and just a bit crazy with the big waves. We then got picked up about 6pm and driven back to the city.

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All in all an incredible and much needed day. It helped us to feel more excited about our journey and just getting out and actually seeing things seemed to calm us down and chill us out. Highly recommend it to anyone who heads out there.

So the adventure begins…!

So, it’s the big count down with 17 days to go until we fly. We’re heading out from Heathrow Airport on the 6th January, transfer in Hong Kong for 10 hours (yep…10 hours) and then hop on over to Auckland arriving on the 8th January. Mega travel times *breaths deep*.

As we’re having 6, almost 7 months away – mainly working but also holidaying –  we’ve planned that the first half month we just get settled into Kiwi life, hopefully get over jet lag and get ourselves on the move. Therefore we’ve got 4 days in Auckland to start getting our heads around what we’ve just done. After that we fly all the way down to Invercarvgill on the south of the South Island and then sail across to Stewart Island for our first nature stop and enjoy ‘The Great Walk’ – the best place in the southern hemisphere to see the Southern Lights, Kiwi birds and just some beautiful nature reserve.

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North Island, New Zealand

The next immediate stage is to get back to the mainland and buy ourselves a cheapish car. From here, we head to our mini WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) location in Riverton for a week to get us into the swing of it before driving over to The Catlins Conservation and Forest Parks to begin our first big volunteering session.

South Island Invercargill

Invercargill, South Island

After this we plan to road trip it up the South Island over roughly the next three months. Using our location of work as a base for 3-4 weeks at a time and then using the remaining time for site seeing, leaving at least a week between places to just  to enjoy ourselves and chill out. Mount Cook and seeing and hiking up either Fox or Franz Josef Glaciers are a definite! There’s also some potential for some adrenalin sports when we hit Queestown – I’ve now been dared to do the world famous bungee jump – I’m terrified! Eventually we’ll end up in Picton at the top of the South Island and sail on over to Wellington for the next leg of the journey.

Once this is all done, we’ll come home. Probably sleep for a very long time and then spend the rest of the time sorting out the millions of photos that will have been taken. Then sleep some more.

Edited on 20th December 2014.

Start at the beginning

As far as travel goes, the furthest I have ever been is Florida in one direction and Cyprus in the other – all family beach (or Disney) holidays and a couple of school and university trips.

This is a google map I've doodled over. So yeah, I didnt make it nor do I own it

This is a google map I’ve doodled over. So yeah, I didn’t make it, neither do I own it.

This is a whole new venture altogether. No parents. No designated responsible grown up. Just myself and my friend Emily striding fourth across the plains and scrambling over the Misty Mountains.

We’re still in the planning stage, gathering accommodation information, flights, etc… We are hoping to get everything solidly set in stone by the end of October if possible. Then it’s just a case of preparing everything we need. Sun screen is a must and will be taking up most of my luggage space to help me avoid looking like a sun dried tomato. Apparently limited/no ozone coverage leaves you just 15 mins before you begin to sizzle (yikes).

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My absurdly large NZ poster taking up most of my wall

Currently the basic plan is to arrive in Auckland in late December, stay there for couple of weeks to get our bearings, then jump on a plane and head on down to Invercargill, pick up a car after a couple days rest to get our bearings. From there we will zig and zag our way north, stopping off and staying at a variety of farms, conservation areas, vineyards and similar, following the NZ summer sun north as autumn sets in and then fly home at the end of July when winter approaches.

Of course we’ll be stopping off for a half pint in the Green Dragon along the way and visiting many of the locations and the sets for the filming of The Lord of the Rings and now The Hobbit. Lothlorien, Hobbiton, Minas Tirith, you know the route. I’m pretty darn excited about it all!

I hope to be able to keep updating this as everything progresses, ranting about the ins and outs of part spontaneous travel and planning along the way.

Wish us luck!

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My kind-of-artsy photography attempts