Going Up The Country

Going to some place that i've never been before...

Category: New Zealand (page 1 of 3)

Mount Aspiring

It’s not quite as good as the other mountains at least it’s trying!

Mount Aspiring National Park is pretty nice as far as national parks go, but this one has the bad fortune to be on the same landmass as Abel Tasman, Fjordland and Milford Sound, and lets face it, that is some stiff competition.

Even so, the name seems fitting, it definitely has potential, and part of its charm is the fact that it is quieter, with far fewer tourists than its more grandiose neighbouring parks. Far fewer tourist, but an unbelievable amount of sandflies. They are everywhere!

To help deter the biblical swarms of tiny but painfully nippy little flies, we lit a fire, and the smoke seemed to keep them at bay. It also meant that Clara could introduce Pauline and I to the wonder of Stockbrot. Stockbrot (stick bread in English) is exactly as it sounds, a sticky, unleavened bread dough that you roll into long sausage shapes and then wrap around a stick, to be toasted over the fire. It is easy to make, simple to cool and absolutely delicious. For those of you who are interested you can find some recipes here.

Franz Josef National Park – Glaciers, Cider and Good Times.

Ever laughed so hard that cider came out of your nose? No? Me neither, until a few days ago.

They say that travelling is all about the people you meet, and they’d be right. A couple of nights ago we had the good fortune to stay at the same campsite as a whole bunch of interesting and brilliant individuals from all over the world. One of those fortuitous, lovely coincidences that seem to usually only happen to other people.

What ensued was a hilarious night sat round a campfire discussing life, travelling, adventures, music, politics and just about everything in between. There was a German lady on a motorbike tour of NZ, a group of four young American guys, one of whom was a really good guitarist, A Spanish guy mid-way through riding a mountain bike all around the south island (the best samba drummer I’ve ever seen), who was playing entire songs on pans, pots and empty boxes! There was also a French brother and sister, as well as a few other people, all sat around one campfire, sharing stories. Sadly there are no photos of this wondrous evening, as everyone was too preoccupied with cider and laughter to consider fetching a camera, but to be honest, any photographs couldn’t have truly captured the amazing vibe, and so in a way I’m quite glad that none exist. It is another one of those fondly remembered events that now exists purely and solely in the memories of those lucky enough to be involved.

Franz Josef Glacier or Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere ito give it its Maori name, is a 12 km glacier on the west coast of the south island of New Zealand, and one of the only glaciers to be in an area of temperate rainforest anywhere in the world. Together with the nearby Fox Glacier, it is one of the most popular tourist hotspots in this gorgeous country, and in an entire land of wilderness and rugged scenery, it still manages to impress. The glacier itself is huge, carving a gouge out of the bedrock of the mountain as it retreats, and leaving behind an almost alien landscape, more akin to the surface of a strange planet from a sci-fi movie than anything we are used to seeing her on earth. The vast scale of the landscapes here have a way of making you seem incredibly insignificant, and none more so than here.

Tours to the glacier face itself have long been stopped after numerous deaths due to sudden and unpredictable shifts and falls in the ice itself, so the only way to get up close and personal with the glacier is by helicopter, an expensive and unsustainable activity that goes against the very nature of glacier conservation. We opted instead for a formidable 6 hour hike up to the top of the neighbouring summit, from where there are panoramic views of the entire national park, including the glacier itself. The colours, and deep wrinkles and undulating folds of the glacier looked like something out of a painting, and from a distance, with little handle on scale, it was hard to believe that the view in front of you was real.

Dramatic place names and jaw-dropping scenery

The Devils Punchbowl, Arthurs Pass and Avalanche Peak. They all sound terrifying, but actually they’re all lovely.

I know what you’re thinking. Why on earth would the devil need a punch bowl? Surely that’s a bit of a frivolous and light-hearted item for the big red guy to own? I guess even the Lord of Darkness likes to throw a little cocktail party from time to time.

So following our previous debauched night at the Mussel Inn, we decided to cover as much ground as possible the following day, and headed south. There was some stunning scenery on the way, but we really wanted to get down to the west coast so we could make our way up to Arthur’s Pass. We’d had a tip off from a few different people that it was well worth the couple of hours drive inland, with some amazing hikes, great views and one of the best waterfalls in New Zealand. They were right on all accounts.

The devils punchbowl, it turns out, is an icy cold lake at the bottom of a huge waterfall. Rather confusingly, you can’t actually access the lake itself (or so the signs would have you believe) and the official path ends at a viewpoint where you can see the waterfall, but not the bowl itself. We had it on good authority though that if you head through the bush and keep climbing for another 5 minutes or so that you come out at the lake itself, so we pushed on away from the beaten track and were rewarded with a immense view of a towering, staggeringly beautiful waterfall crashing on to the rocks below. Clara and I had neglected to bring any kind of swimming gear, and so we stripped off and went for a truly wild naked swim, much to the amusement of the couple of other tourists luckily enough to be there!

Avalance Peak, New Zealand

The following day we set off to hike up to the top of Avalanche Peak. Despite its dramatic sounding name, in the summer months its not too dangerous due to the lack of snow, and it has great views over the pass itself, as well as the waterfall, the valley below, and neighbouring peaks. Despite being relatively safe, it was still a testing hike up some fairly steep terrain. I’d definitely recommend it though, it was well worth the effort and the views from the top were fantastic. We also befriended some Kea at the top, a kind of Alpine Parrot that are pretty noisy, and pretty cheeky, eating and stealing anything thats not packed away or tied down!

Kea on Avalanche Peak, Arthurs Pass

After a few days inland we were ready to head back to the coast, and we headed for Hokitika, a small town roughly halfway down the west coast. The D.O.C campsite there is just out of town, and right on a beautiful lake, which meant that this morning we could take the kayak out for a spin. After a few days of full on hiking it was good to gives the legs a bit of a rest and do an upper body workout instead!

That Mexican Metal Mariachi Band

I like to think I’m pretty clued up when it comes to genres of music. Turns out I’d missed one.

When several very cool people recommend a place to you completely independently and unbeknownst to each other, that’s a sign that you really should go check that place out. That place was The Mussel Inn, just outside a town called Tekaka, and it’s a little bit special.

Tekaka itself is worth a mention, a sweet little town with lots of art galleries, organic food shops, quirky café’s and crafts places that feels a little bit like a wandering group of artists and hippies have somehow taken over a turn-of-the century mid-west frontier town – ‘The Good Life’ meets ‘Little House on The Prairie.’

Head north out of Tekaka for about ten minutes and you’ll find the turn off for The Mussel Inn. The bar itself is an old, well settled wooden shack, big enough for people to have a good time, but small enough to feel intimate and busy without too much hard work. We turned up intending to just have one drink (from a selection of their own home-made ales, lagers and ciders), but as is the way with places that are this good, we didn’t make it out of there until well into the following day.

It seems that the ingredients for a really good night are pretty much the same the world over, regardless of town, country or even hemisphere. If you find a place with a great outdoor space, preferably with a fire pit, live music, home-brewed drinks and a couple of really good food options, then you’re more likely than not in for a good time. The place itself is only half the battle though, even a great venue will fall down if it is full of arseholes. Luckily, good places and great people seem to attract each other, and this place was no exception. The crowd was a ramshackle group of various ages and nationalities, but all with a taste for good ales, a chilled atmosphere and all with an almost palpable sense of anticipation with regards to the live treat for the evening, a Mexican Metal Mariachi band. It helped that the band had obviously bought a few supporters along, some of which were busy painting the faces of anyone willing, including Pauline:

IMG_2092 (1)

The band did not disappoint, from their kiss-esque black and white face paint, to their black leather trousers and frilly black shirts, they well and truly looked the part, and musically, they were well rehearsed and tight, which is lucky, because with classical style fingerpicking that fast, there is little room for error! They played a long set, with a gap in the middle, and by the end of the night the whole place was jumping. A bouncing, writhing mass of people with huge grins plastered across their black and white painted faces. The echo of bare feet stomping in unison upon the well-worn wide wooden planks of the bar floor is still ringing in my ears now.

What a night.

Complete Paradise

Easily my favourite place in New Zealand (and probably the world) so far.

A few weeks ago, in the North Island, we met a guy called Martin. Martin had been in New Zealand for over a year, and had done a lot of travelling across both the North and South islands. When we met him he was just a few days away from flying to Thailand to carry on his travels, and so he was trying to get rid of most of his stuff. I ended up buying a frying pan and a fishing rod from him, but the most valuable and useful thing we got from Martin was completely free. I mentioned that we were headed to the south island soon, and asked him if he’d mind marking some of his favourite things on the south island on a map for us, which he happily did.

The first thing he marked on there was a place that he said was his favourite place in the whole of New Zealand, the most beautiful place he’d seen and somewhere that should not be missed. That place was Anatoni.

To get there is an arduous two-hour journey along rough gravel roads, but it well worth the trip. Head north from Nelson, up past Abel Tasman, past Golden Bay, and keep going, past the turning for Farewell Spit. The road turns to a gravel road, and you simply follow that road until it ends. The road curves and dips along through isolated, wild countryside, providing some spectacularly eye-popping views, and then hugs the coast, heading north-west, before turning south and making its way down the top end of the west coast of the South Island. Eventually it comes to fairly small grassy area, with one basic long drop toilet. There are no sinks, no showers, no water and no other facilities, but its completely free to camp and the campsite is right next to an amazing beach.

Anatoni beach - pure paradise!

We were lucky in that the weather was spectacularly good still, and with ample firewood in the form of driftwood on the beach, we cooked dinner that night on the fire, a cowboy-licious combo of veggie chilli and grilled corn on the cob. Corn cooked over an open fire with lots of butter, salt and pepper is a real treat.

The next morning I realised that it was pancake day in the UK, and by some small miracle we had all of the ingredients for pancakes in our Tupperware larder, so I rustled up pancakes for breakfast. We didn’t have any oranges or lemons, but we did have a winning DIY Nutella in the form of peanut butter mixed with cocoa powder, cinnamon, brown sugar and lots of apples and pears courtesy of Rainbow Valley. Pancakes never tasted so good!

If you are ever in New Zealand, do yourself a favour and do not miss this place. It is without a doubt the most beautiful place in New Zealand so far, and quite probably the most beautiful place I have ever been. It’s that good.

Abel Tasman and Rainbow Valley

I know Rainbow Valley sounds like a Mario Kart track, but this is an actual, and very lovely place.

Nothing quite beats cooking dinner with ingredients that have been freshly picked or caught that day. For dinner last night we had the most delicious mussels I’ve ever eaten, gathered earlier that day on our first trip out in the new kayak.

After we bought the kayak, we left Nelson and headed north, up the coast towards The Abel Tasman National Park. Abel Tasman is one of the most picturesque places I have ever been, where long, gently curving golden beaches meet deep turquoise seas, surrounded by lush, subtropical forests. As it is a national park, there are a number of campsites run by the Department of Conservation (D.O.C.), which are usually nice grassy spaces, with clean toilets and stone built fireplaces. Sometimes if you’re extra lucky there’s even a (cold) shower.

We stayed at Totaranui, the northernmost D.O.C. campsite, which gives some of the best access to the incredible beaches and a number of coastal and forest walks. We used the campsite as a base for a two-day hike up the coastal path to the north, taking our tents, sleeping bags and food with us. It was one of the best hikes I’ve done in New Zealand so far, with the first day snaking north along the ruggedly beautiful coastline, stopping at several isolated, gorgeous sun-soaked bays along the way. It took a while longer than it should have to reach the campsite purely because of the number of times we stopped to take pictures or to have a swim, or even just to take in the view.

Abel Tasman

We camped for the night at another, smaller DOC campsite up at the top of Abel Tasman only accessible by foot or by boat. It was a great little campsite, and we managed to muscle in on a roaringly good campfire built by a group of guys from Spain and South America. The best nights when camping are always the ones where you have a campfire.

We hiked inland the next morning, into the forest and over a hill to get back down to the Totaranui campsite, and it was a much shorter and quicker hike than the previous day, so we made it back just after midday and decided that it was time for the Kayaks first outing. Especially as there were lots of rocky outcrops just off the beach that looked like they were covered in mussels. Pick your own dinner! The paddle along the coast was a lovely way to spend an afternoon, stopping to swim and sunbathe in little coves and bays along the way, and we managed to fill almost an entire supermarket carrier bag with mussels between us. After a long, lazy afternoon in the water, we took our time to load up the kayak, and found another campsite fairly close by, a beautiful little place called Rainbow Valley. Rainbow Valley Community Campground, to give it it’s full name, is run by a lovely older lady who owns an entire valley just to the west of Abel Tasman National Park, and there are little houses and huts scattered along the valley, with the camping spots being situated in an apple and pear orchard just next to the river. We were instructed to help ourselves to as many apples and pears from the orchard as we liked, an offering we definitely made the most of. I think we were still eating pears about a week later, and they were delicious, completely organic and unsprayed.

Rainbow Valley Community Campground

That brings me back to my opening paragraph, we cooked the mussels we’d gathered that day for dinner in a candlelit riverside cook-off, and ate until we were completely bursting, feasting on some of the biggest and juiciest mussels I’ve ever had the pleasure to devour.

Probably the best gadget ever invented

And the best bit is it only costs five dollars (no, not the kayak!)

I’ve bought a lot of gadgets in my time, and seen even more, and I’ve learned that generally things that sound great but are really cheap are almost always pretty bad. ALMOST always. Today I bought a water bottle that is also a solar powered torch. It’s kind of a bit cool and a bit geeky, pretty much James Bond meets Ray Mears, but it was $5 and my curiosity got the better of me. I bought one, and so did Pauline, and unbelievably, they are really good! The solar panel on the top of the lid charges the batteries fairly quickly, and LEDs are nice and bright. The LEDs are inside the lid too, pointing down, meaning that when the bottle is full of water it refracts the light nicely, making it a pretty good lantern. All for five dollars! K-Mart you little beauty.

As well as the solar-powered Lantern, I bought quite a lot of other things in Nelson today. I’m planning on doing some long, multi-day hikes soon now I’m in the south island, and so I needed a tent. Preferably a nice small, light tent but something which is good quality and properly waterproof, and I managed to find the perfect tent in a camping shop in Nelson with 20% off. First the solar lantern and now 20% off a tent? Things are just getting better and better! The icing on the spending spree cake however was waiting just around the corner…

Torpedo7 (a sports and outdoors shop) had a huge sale on, and I noticed a three man, seventeen feet long kayak was on sale from $1200 down to just $400! Id been researching renting kayaks in Abel Tasman National Park where we will be headed in a few days, and already knew they were in the region of $100 per person per day to rent, so $400 for a kayak for all three of us seemed a steal. Impulse buy number three. Say hello to the ‘Big Banana’…

There’s No Place Like Home

But there are a million and one places out there that are all different from home.

I had an interesting chat today, one of many interesting chats with complete strangers that happen naturally when you are travelling and sleeping in a different place each night. What made this one particularly interesting is that we were discussing the notion of homesickness, and in particular my lack of it so far.

Home is a pretty universally accepted and understood term, and relates to where you are from, the place you have chosen to put down roots and make connections. It is based on connections and ties, both emotional and physical. It seems to me that the longer you stay in a certain place, the more connections you make. Friends and a part time job turn into relationships and a full time job, which in turn morph over the years into marriage, mortgage, a career, children, all of which serve to bind you to a certain area, and as a result you really get to know a place, and everybody in it.

All of my family and a lot of my old school friends are still in a little town called Long Eaton, near Nottingham in the East Midlands. I was born there, and lived there for a long time, but to be quite honest nowhere up there has really felt like home since a couple of years after I left for university, partly because so much up there has changed since I left that the environment I knew and grew up in no longer exists.

I left Long Eaton when I was twenty years old for university, and headed south to Bournemouth – sunnier climes and beach life beckoned, but I always assumed I’d return to the midlands once my degree was over. Needless to say the pull of living near the beach with the most sunshine hours in the UK won through and I never returned north.

Although I’ve been living in Bournemouth for the last ten years, a lot of my university friends left after their degrees, and I tended to move house most years, from one rented place to another, meaning I never really got too attached to any one part of town. And no friendship groups stayed completely intact for too long, with a few exceptions.

What all of this boils down to is that for me, there is no one place in the UK that really feels like home anymore, and so nowhere to feel homesick for. Of course I miss my family and friends, and there parts of lots of places I miss. I miss DJing at the awesome pubs in Brighton with my friends there, I miss beers in the local microbrewery in Bournemouth, I miss the pasties in the Square and Compass in the Purbecks, and long walks with friends and their dogs in the New Forest. I miss surfing in Boscombe, nights out in London, seeing my family in the Midlands, and a whole host of other things, but these people and places are scattered far and wide across the UK, with some friends even in Europe or further afield.

You could be forgiven for thinking that not having one special place that really feels like home is something to be upset about, but you’d be wrong. What it actually means for me is that ‘home’ is made up of everywhere I’ve been and everyone I know up to now. Pretty much everywhere feels like home. Within hours of being in New Zealand it already felt as comfortable and familiar to me as any other place I’ve lived or visited, and when the place you are right now feels like home, its pretty hard to get homesick.

Wellington – Part one

Turns out there IS such a thing as a free lunch. Well, free dinner.

Windy Wellington is apparently how its known, but we must have lucked out as we had almost no wind and a bright sunny day as we arrived last night after dropping off Carole and Amandine at the blueberry farm.

The hostel was basic, but cheap (at least by wellington standards!) and had free parking, so perfect for us. They weren’t too busy either, so Clara and I got our own six-bed dorm room to ourselves, which was great.

After a quick shower and change we headed into town to find some dinner, and almost immediately stumbled across a Free BBQ at the Cambridge Hotel! If you’re in town on a Wednesday night then head down to the Cambridge Hotel at 6pm for a full spread of steaks, lamb chops, bratwurst, salads, rice, all completely free! Im not sure how or why this weekly meat frenzy happens, but it does, and it’s awesome.

We also met our new travel buddy Pauline last night, a girl we’d met previously at Hot Water Beach weeks ago (I borrowed her spade in a vain attempt to dig myself a hot water hole) and Clara had been in touch to mention we had a few free seats. Pauline came and joined us at the Cambridge Hotel and we all had some gratis dinner and a drink before mooching round town and checking out some other bars.

Paulines friend had sent her a list of cool places in Wellie, and so we hit a few of those from the list, namely a few bars; Rogue and Vagabond, and then Goldings. Both were great, had awesome craft beers and ales, good music, great food and Rogue and Vagabond had a really sweet outdoor seating area with low tables and scatter cushions out in the park in front of the bar. Both are definitely worth a look if you’re in town.

The next morning we headed over to Te Papa, the national museum of New Zealand, which was one of the best cultural experiences I’ve had so far here. The museum is huge, and one day really isn’t enough time to do it justice, but we managed to see a good chunk of the exhibits. Museum entry is free (Is everything in Wellington free?!) with some guest exhibits from time to time requiring paid ticketed entry.

Te Papa gives any Museum in Europe or America a run for its money – super modern, very well laid out, informative, helpful staff and a prime location right down on the waterfront. If you’re in wellington for any amount of time you’d be crazy to not go check it out.

Anyway, we got the interislander ferry across the Cook Straight this afternoon, which slowly winds its way down through the Marlborough Sounds and into Picton; a beautiful scenic journey and we sat outside for almost the entire journey. After landing in Picton we’re camped tonight at Whatamango Bay, a lovely grassy flat campsite about twenty minutes outside of Picton. It’s another D.O.C. campsite and so was only $6 per person for the night, which was a steal just for the view alone. We had a few bottles of wine and spent a lot of time chatting and getting to know Pauline. She seems great, and I get the feeling that the next few weeks in the South Island are going to be pretty magical. The night sky, even here, is already so beautiful, and once we get further south away from the light pollution of the bigger cities I can only imagine how bright the stars will be…

Blueberry Fields Forever

Its not every day you get to sleep with three girls out on a beach under the stars.

Sleep as in actually sleep that is. Don’t get too carried away. Last night was our last night travelling as a foursome; Amandine and Carole are disembarking this magical mystery tour later today near Wellington, at a small blueberry farm enchantingly titled ‘Blueberry Fields Forever’.

To mark our last night together, we found a great spot at Foxtons Beach, a wide, sandy beach on the west coast north of Wellington. Our original plan was to pitch the tents on the beach, but after arriving to find glorious sunshine, and with the weather forecast looking promising for the entire evening, we decided to sleep out under the stars. The sunset was pretty spectacular, slightly impeded by some last minute clouds, but the colour of the sky was gorgeous, and made for a good backdrop for us to eat dinner. After dinner I decided to try my luck with my newly acquired fishind rod and some bait I’d bought in Foxton town. Sadly the beach was way too flat and the tide was disappearing pretty quickly, so after a little while I decided it would be more productive to have a beer.

Fishing at Foxton Beach

In the morning we were woken by horses trekking along the beach, followed closely by the less-than-idyllic sound of a local bloke and his chainsaw, cutting up some driftwood further up the beach. After our early morning petrol driven wake up call, we decided the best course of action was a nice breakfast swim in the surf.

Life is pretty good right now, and the last two weeks have been such an adventure. It will be a shame to lose the French half of our group later today, but I can’t help but feel excited about what the south Island has in store for us, and it looks like Clara has managed to find a new travel buddy to join the gang…

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