Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Auckland, the second time around

As I drove down Ponsonby Road, I felt at home and glad to be back in Auckland. It seemed weird how the sight of Sky Tower and driving the familiar roads made me feel at ease but they did and I was looking forward to another summer here.

I drove straight to the Explore NZ office as all my traveling had eaten into my bank balance and I needed to arrange an earlier start date. It was good seeing all my old work mates and catching up, I also managed to push my start date forward so I was very happy. Now all was left to do was find a hostel. I did consider staying at one of the hostels in the City because I wouldn’t have to travel far to work but as I had the car Uenuku Lodge was the easy choice.

I rung the door bell and to my surprise Olivia’s friend, Karen opened the door. Olivia and I had stayed at Uenuku when we first got to Auckland and Olivia set Karen and her friend Hayley up there when they arrived in NZ - I couldn’t believe they were still living there but after staying at Uenuku a few weeks I soon realised why. There were a lot of long termers, the longest being Stacey who was staying at Uenuku before Liv and I arrived the first time round! This created a really friendly and fun environment. I stayed the first few nights in room 2 but once the owner realised I would be staying for some time he moved me into room 1 with all the log termers.

Getting back to work was easy and it felt as though I had never been away, well apart from all my awesome memories of traveling the South Island and of course snowboarding. It felt as if I didn’t need to settle back in, I was already settled. Work was going well - it was nice to have money going back into my account and I was making some great friends. As my days off changed each week staying at the hostel was great as there were always people around to have a beer with or go out and do stuff.

Christmas and New Years was fast approaching and I didn’t have anything planned. The guys from the hostel had rented a house in Waiheke for a few days either side of Christmas and were also going to Rhythms and Vines in Gisborne. As more people were going to Waiheke than the house slept, any my boss had offered me the time off for Rhythm and Vines I decided to book a ticket. For you who don’t
know, Rhythm and Vines is a three day music festival on 29th, 30th and 31st December. The party continues into the New Year and they keep the campsite open for another two days after the concert has finished. Gisborne is the first town to see the New Year in the world, so I was real excited to be amoungst the first people in the world to celebrate the New Year, raving with my hands held high. To make things even more mouth watering, the dance line up was amazing and featured the likes of Carl Cox, Justice, Boys Noize and N*E*R*D were head lining. I was so pumped for Rhythm and Vines as it had the potential of being the best New Years ever!

As I was feeling settled at Uenuku and had just brought my Rhythm and Vines ticket I was going to put the house hunting on the back burner as quite frankly I was bored of it and thought there was no point in moving until after Rhythm and Vines. Then out of the blue I got a text from a house I had viewed two or three weeks ago, offering me the room. I was torn on what to do. I knew I would enjoy my own place but at the same time I had made loads of friends at the hostel and enjoyed seeing everyone, day in day out. Then the next night out in the Viaduct made my mind up for me, I needed my privacy and not a 10 man dorm.

The next day, I text the guys back and told them I would like to take the room. The house was really nice and was situated just off Ponsonby Road so only added an extra 5 minutes to my ride to work. My new housemates were called Jen, Niamh, Eoin and Peter. They were all travelling on working holiday visa’s from Ireland. I did miss the people at the hostel but I was glad that I made the move. My new housemates were sound and we all got along really well. When I moved in all I had was my belongings so I had to borrow a mattress form the hostel and sleep on the floor. Luckily I found a bed on trade me pretty cheap and my boss let me borrow the work truck to pick it up.

My life in Auckland was great. I was enjoying work, living in my new house was going well, I was catching up with the folk from the hostel on the weekends and I was looking forward to Rhythm and Vines.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Picton to Auckland

I wasn’t sure whether I should hang around in Wellington for the day so I could get the car fixed on Monday or head straight to Tongariro National Park, which was around 450K away. After chatting to the hostel owner in Picton, who seemed to know a thing or two about cars and reading up online, I decided to push on and drive to Tongariro.

The purpose of stopping at Tongariro was to do the Tongariro Crossing, one of NZ’s great day walks and to do a day’s riding at Mt Raupehau. The good news was the car made it, the bad news was the weather meant snowboarding and the crossing wouldn’t be possible for a few days so in the morning I would be Auckland bound. This was the second time I have tried to do the crossing and have been stopped by the weather. Liv and I spent three days here back in April. Funnily enough I bumped into a guy called Doug that I was travelling on the Stray Bus with and decided to stay and work at the hostel for a couple of months with his girlfriend, Jenny. 6 months later they were still here and planning to stay for several more months.  

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Kiakoura to Picton

As we run a Whale and Dolphin tour in Auckland, I thought it would be a good idea to see how things are done in Kaikoura. I left Methven early and made my way to Kiakoura, which was a far longer drive than I had expected. The weather wasn’t great and I spent most of the time driving through the cloud. As I pulled into Kiakoura the cloud cleared and I could finally see what a beautiful place it was. Unfortunately the wind was blowing around 25 / 30 knots, which meant the sea was too rough for the trip to run so I jumped back into the car and headed straight to Picton.

When I booked the whale watching trip, I wasn’t really that fussed about going but as I left Kiakoura I was really disappointed. Kiakoura is a beautiful little seaside town and it would be an awesome place to visit in the summer. The sea is a lovely shade of blue and the beach is surrounded by mountains, which makes the place very picturesque.  I was really looking forward to getting out on the water and chilling in the sun for a few hours. Unfortunately it just wasn’t meant to be.

A few K’s down the road from Kiakoura the car started playing up. As I was driving it started to splutter like something was blocking the fuel line. I couldn’t believe it, and the drive to Blenheim, which was the next major town that had a garage was a nervous 100 odd K drive. When I rolled into Blenhiem, I noticed a lot of the shops were shut, I then realised it was Saturday afternoon! I asked a local if he knew of any garages that would be open and he replied “I think you’re barking up the wrong tree around here mate aye. Places shut at 12 on a Saturday mate.” I had already booked my ferry and it wasn’t possible to change the time so I had no choice but to hope the old girl would make the final 50K to Picton and limp onto the ferry in the morning. 

Friday, October 15, 2010

Mt Hutt - Methven

The final activity on my South Island tour was a day’s riding at Mt Hutt, the third mountain owned by NZSki. I’ve been wanting to go all season and the weather was looking awesome so I was pretty excited. To make things even better I bumped into a lifty from Remarks that I worked with in Queenstown and on the mountain we meet a couple of lifty’s from Coronet so I had a few people to ride and drink with, which made my time in Methven far more enjoyable. I had only planned to stay for one day but as I bumped into the guys from Queenstown and with the weather being so great I decided to stay for another day.

The two days riding at Methven were the best two days of my South Island tour. Mt Hutt is a cool mountain and I’m glad I got to experience Methven. I’m pleased that I finished the season on a high, my last day at Coronet was fantastic and the two days at Mt Hutt were truly awesome.   

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Lake Tekapo and Mt Cook

Lake Tekapo is a beautiful blue lake, that sits in front of Mt Cook and is very picturesque. The main reason for my trip to Lake Tekapo was to do a star gazing tour at the Mt John Observatory. I have been wanting to do this tour for a long time now and was really excited.

As it turned out I was disappointed with the tour. I was expecting to look through all these super doper telescope and get awesome close up views of stars, the milky way and planets. Instead we drove up the hill and looked at stars with our eyes and 3 smallish telescopes! I got the tour half price and was gutted to have paid for that, I felt sorry for the people that paid the full $85 for something they could do for free. Even though I was disappointed I enjoyed the evening, the guide knew his shit and educated everyone on our galaxy and it was nice to relax for a couple of hours under the stars.

I managed to arrange a couple of last minute trips near Mt Cook so headed off early the next morning. I was pretty excited as I wasn’t going to visit Mt Cook and was looking forward to getting to the base. The weather couldn’t have been better, the sun was out and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky - apparently the morning before snow was in the car park!

The first trip was called Glacier Explorer. The guides took us for a cruise around the ice bergs in the lake in front of the Tasmin Glacier. Basically the lake is melting the glacier and when the ice falls off it pops up in the lake. It was a pretty cool experience floating around these huge ice bergs, something I never dreamed I would do.

The second trip was a 4x4 trip along the Mt Cook Range. I was really looking forward to this trip but unfortunately it wasn’t really a 4x4 trip. We basically travelled up a rocky road in an Argo, which is a six wheeled off road buggy. We stopped off at a few points and got the chance to look down on the lake, and ice bergs and we got a better view of the Glacier. I enjoyed the trip but would have been gutted if I had to pay for it. When I hear 4x4 I imagine extreme off roading through valleys and streams, unfortunately this wasn't the case but I guess it’s hard to do on a mountain range! I was also disappointed that I didn’t get a decent look at Mount Cook. For this you need to hike around 10k’s. It would have been cool to do a day walk onto the Tasmin Glacier or to the foot of Mt Cook but as I’ve previously mentioned, recently I’ve lost my enthusiasm to take a whole day just to look at landscape. 

Mt Cook Range, the view from the road

The Church of the Good Shepherd

Lake Tekapo and Mt Cook Range

Lake Tekapo at sun set. View from the hostel

Pictures don't really show the size of these massive icebergs

Foot of the Tasmin Glacier

Mt Cook Range

View from top looking down at the icebergs

Monday, October 11, 2010

Invercargill, Catlins and Dunedin

Invercargill….What a shit hole! As I pulled in I instantly hated the place. It looked so run down, miserable and for the first time since being in New Zealand I was concerned about my car or the contents being where I left them the next morning. I should have known what to expect as, as I approached the town I saw my first KFC and McDonalds for 600k’s!

The hostel I stayed in was pretty sweet. I got the room for free and they were kind enough to give me my own room with a massive bed in, which was much appreciated and the first time I’ve had my own room and bed for a good 6 weeks. I spent the evening chilling with two crazy Canadian chicks and a dry witted English fella. The plan was to have a nice lye in then cruise through the Catlins in the morning.

Unfortunately the Catlins wasn’t what I was expecting and I was very disappointed. I was expecting a costal drive with lots to see, instead the drive was mainly inland and you had to detour to see the sights. After being in Milford and Doubtful and seeing numerous landmarks in NZ I really couldn’t be arsed to take any detours. I guess I was just in one of those moods, so I decided to give myself a kick up the ass and visit the next sight. I took the road to Mcleans Falls and as I turned the corner noticed that the falls was a 3k drive away. Against my better judgment I drove on and pulled into the car park. The next sign I saw read “Mcleans Falls, 40 minute return walk”. In the true words of a Kiwi, I thought to myself, Fuck I’m over this, got back in the car and drove to Dunedin without looking at another detour.   

From what I saw of Dunedin, I liked the atmosphere and the look of the place. Dunedin is a uni town and there were plenty of bars and clubs around. Unfortunately I arrived during exam week and the place was dead. I booked myself into the Speight’s Brewery tour and just had enough time to cook a quick steak. The word quick being key, which led to the steak being too rare, a road side incident the following day that I shouldn’t share in a blog and four or five days worth of serious stomach cramps. At least my stomach held for the tour and a few beers after in town.

Gold medals won from 1877 brewery awards

Funny ancient Egyption beer warning

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Doubtful Sound

Doubtful Sound is just a few k’s down the road from Milford, it doesn’t get as many visitors but it’s supposed to be the more scenic of the two. Again it was created by glacier ice calving through the rock and it also has 4 to 6 meters of fresh water sitting on top of the sea water. This time I cruised with Real Journey’s who I must say have been the best company that I’ve travelled with in NZ.

The trip starts with a cruise over Lake Manapouri. The views are beautiful and to be fair I would just be happy with a cruise around the lake. As with Milford all the mountain are filled with trees and everything is very green and fresh. The next stage is a bus trip over the Wilmot Pass and to the start of Doubtful Sound. Doubtful is very similar to Milford apart from the mountains are made of many Islands compared Milford’s valleys. I was pretty lucky with the weather, we had patches of sun and rain so I got to experience the Sound in different climates but more importantly the visibility was always good.
Scar caused by tree avalanche

It’s hard to write too much about Doubtful Sound, I guess you just need to experience it for yourself. I think I preferred the trip to Doubtful as it was longer and had more stages with different scenery but I couldn’t pick a favourite between Milford and Doubtful.

Click here for more photos of Doubtful Sound

Friday, October 8, 2010

Te Anau

I had a day to burn before visiting Doubtful Sound so decided to spend the day in Te Anau, as it’s the closest major town to Milford and has a few of NZ’s great walks close by. I decided to walk the first day of the Kepler Track. The weather forecast wasn’t great but I didn’t want to waste the day so I set off looking like a professional tramper, wearing a pair of running shoes, thin running socks, a pair of shorts, my Chelsea shirt and a not very waterproof light jacket.

It took me just under an hour to walk from my hostel to the start of the track, then just over 3 hours to walk to Mt Luxmore Hut.  I was pretty chuffed with this time as DOC advertise a 6 hr walk time from the start of the track to the hut. As the weather was crap the view wasn’t great but what I could see was really nice. As I approached the top of the tree line there was a fairly thick layer of snow laying on the track. It turned out that it wasn’t possible to walk much further than I did as the snow was waist deep in places - shame it wasn’t like that on the ski fields! The trip did through in a fairly big surprise, the hut was amazing. I was expecting a few small, damp, grotty huts but instead DOC has built a wooden mansion with around 50 beds. At this time of year it would be fairly cold but in the summer it would be a beautiful stay, probably better than most backpackers. 
The walk was much tougher than I had expected but I guess not many idiots walk to the first hut then turn around and come home. After 6 and a half hours of walking in the rain I couldn’t wait for a nice warm shower. I’m glad I made the effort but I’m not sure walking is for me, although I would like to do one multi day hike before leaving NZ.

Picture from Lake Te Anua looking at the Kepler Range

Mt Luxmore Hut

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Milford Sound

So after just over 4 months it was time to leave Queenstown and head back to Auckland via a massive road trip. I am traveling on my own so petrol will be expensive but I’m looking forward to doing what I want, when I want.
The entry to Milford.
First stop was Milford Sound. So for the boring part…… Milford Sound was created by ice falling off the glaciers and caving through the rock. The highest peak is around 1600 meters above sea level and the deepest part of the sound is around 400 meters. I travelled Milford by boat with Southern Discoveries. The trip took around 2 hours and was an awesome experience. You are constantly surrounded my massive mountains and due to the amount of rain everything is very lush, green, fresh and there are lots of big waterfalls. It is one of those places that you keep reaching for your camera to take pictures.

On the way back we stopped at an underwater observatory. As the Sounds gets so much rain a layer of between 4 and 6 meters sits on top of the sea water. The fresh water filters out the sun so deep sea coral and fish can live in relatively shallow waters. The observatory takes you down 30 meters and gives you an insight into the depths of the sound. I really enjoyed the day, the scenery was beautiful and it was nice to kick back, relax and know work is a few weeks away.

 Click here to view more photos of Milford Sound.