Gold Coast to Noosa Heads

On the road again!  I honestly don’t know where to start right now cause I can’t remember what I last wrote.  Right.  Mullumbimby.  Since then, I’ve been to Surfer’s Paradise in Gold Coast, Brisbane and Noosa Heads.  It feels like Mullum was so long ago but I guess it’s only been six days.  Okay so almost a week, that’s pretty long in travel time.  Surfer’s Paradise was okay until my last day there which was AWESOME!  It’s just another beach town, but with high rises and lots of shopping and bars and clubs.  It would have been a great place to recharge if it weren’t so hot and the fan so creaky that I didn’t sleep the first night, and little the second.  But, Julia joined me on Friday evening and on Saturday afternoon we went to AquaSplash and it was THE MOST FUN (as you can see in the photo).  To explain, it’s basically an obstacle course, but inflatable and on water.  It is very ridiculous and you just can’t help but laugh pretty much non-stop as you uncontrollably flail and fall over everywhere.  So, SO MUCH FUN.  Also, such a good way to work out without noticing it because we are STILL slightly sore three days later.  Oh, and also I’m pretty sure I saw Liverpool 2018 and Sanya Serenity Coast off the coast of Main Beach, Southport as they passed by.  They were just smudges on the horizon, but they were around there according to the Race Viewer so I decided it was more fun to say it was them.  Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten to see HotP anywhere along the coast on their journey, they’re already nearly arrived and I’m still only coming up to Fraser Island.

Anyway, made it to Brisbane that night and stayed with a friend of Julia’s.  It was so lovely to be in a home instead of a hostel for a change.  We crashed early and have now every night since.  And, personally, I’m still tired!  It’s getting better though, one more night of good sleep and we’ll be ready to camp on Fraser Island.  Got sidetracked.  Brisbane.  We only spent a few hours in Brisbane in the end, but we needed most of our full day there to plan out our time between then and Airlie, so it’s okay.  From those couple of hours, we loved it, albeit unprepared for the windiness and associated chilliness.  It was 37oC earlier, we did not think to bring pants or a sweater.. I was particularly surprised by how much Brisbane reminded me of London.  Their wheel, by a building that looks like South Bank Centre, with a lit up bridge, and further down a bridge that is reminiscent of the Millenium Bridge… the tall glass buildings looked like Canary Wharf, though the placement relative to the South Bank was different from London.. there was also a large road along the water, similar to along Embankment.  Amazing.  Threw me off a little, but I didn’t mind really.

We’ve now just left Noosa Heads, where we spent one night.  Yesterday, we kept things low key, just walking around town a little bit and playing cards with a free glass of wine (for those having checked in that day!) in the evening.  It’s a really cute town and today we got to see the main beach and along the coastal walk, which was lovely.  This is going to sound horrible, but I’m getting used to these beach landscapes and I just don’t find them as impressive anymore..  it’s nice, but they all look the same to me.  Beach, with rocks usually at some point, and greenery not too far off.  All these towns up the coast will just be other beaches, so I’m looking forward to spending more than one night in Seventeen Seventy, and about a week in Airlie before heading out to sea.

Speaking of which, two weeks from today, I will already be at sea and it has definitely not sunk in.  I can’t even imagine what that will be like or feel like, despite trying.  It feels so soon yet so far away.  Perhaps it will sink in more when I reach Airlie?  Only time will tell…

Advertisements

Mullumbimby

I have fallen in love with another part of Australia.  My time in Byron Bay itself was short – one night – and that’s all I needed, really.  The folks in Yamba were right, I preferred Yamba – although, the Byron area has lots to offer.  I made my way to Mullumbimby to check out the Crystal Castle, recommended to me by my friend Julia, and only intended to stay there overnight to visit that and then move on up the coast.  But, due to buses not running very often, I didn’t make it to the Crystal Castle that first afternoon and instead spent time hanging out on the Byron beach with a couple of French Canadians I’d met at the hostel I stayed at in Byron (which turns out.. was a bunch of tents by the highway.. anyway, moving on) and only made it to the campground in Mullumbimby towards the end of the afternoon.  There I met a lovely couple who immediately welcomed me!  Meeting people like them is one of the biggest reasons I love travelling like this!

Anyway once I’d set up my tent, I went into town to explore a little as I originally intended to leave the next day after visiting the Crystal Castle.  And it was basically love at first sight.  I would live there.  It’s known as Australia’s Biggest Small Town and I think that’s quite right.  In the small, two-block ‘CBD’ (central business district – Aussie for downtown), there was more than one bulk store (!!), most shops carried locally grown/made goods (food, clothes, shoes, jewellery, cosmetics, furniture, you name it) and it just had such a nice character to it.  With Keith and Annie, I got to explore around the area.  Over the three days I was there, we went to the beach at Brunswick Heads, got a drink at a traditional Aussie pub and they generously drove me to Crystal Castle, which I had found out in Byron Bay, isn’t actually in Mullumbimby despite the address saying so.  And no public transport either.  I hitch hiked back.  It was an interesting place, a little pricier than I felt it was worth, but I’m glad I went.  It boasts the biggest amethyst cave in the world, as well as 5.5m tall amethyst guardians!  It also has tons of rose quartz, a world peace stupa, has welcomed the Dalai Lama and is generally a place of meditation and peace.  It did strike me as odd that all these enormous crystals had been moved from their home in South America all the way to Australia to be gathered in a place that collected large crystals… why could such a place not have been created near where the crystals all came from?  It’s a relatively concentrated area compared to how long they’ve travelled to be displayed in Oz, and the area around it is apparently very poor so could probably use the economic boost.  I don’t know, perhaps I’m missing something, but that was one thing that bothered me a bit about the place.  I did a little workshop, included a part of the entry price, on crystals where we did an exercise to find a good crystal for us at that point in time, and we also did a chakra cleansing with crystals.  I must say, I don’t believe in any of it, they are inanimate objects to me and carry no special significance, but I do appreciate meditation and simply treated these exercises as a form of meditation.

Another highlight of my time in Mullumbimby was seeing the bats out to feed at dusk.  Hundreds of them fly around!  During the day, it’s amazing to see hundreds of (actually pretty large) black shapes hanging from the trees, though I’d never noticed them until they were pointed out to me!  Earlier today, as I was waiting for the bus to Surfer’s Paradise, I thought again how glad I am to have begun 2018 positively, leaving Sydney and stress behind – overwhelmingly all my time since then has been so positive!  I’m looking forward to spending a little time on the Gold Coast and to meeting up with Julia to do the second half of my coast trip, from Surfer’s Paradise to Airlie Beach!

Yamba!

Yamba!

[Only a few days’ delay! I wrote this on Sunday]

So it turns out the bus is the best place to write, given it’s a fixed period of time where there isn’t much else to do.  Sure I could be working, or watching Netflix, or whatever else but I like to write.  And when that’s done, I can move on to other things.  Today, I’ve got watching a series of YouTube videos called Big Bangs by Howard Goodall, recommended to me by the lady who drove me to lunch on Christmas Day. Or continuing to read Fifty Shades Darker in Dutch.  It was the only Dutch book I saw at the hostel and my time with a Flemish travel companion has restoked my interest in improving my comprehension of the language.  It’s slow, but noticeably picking up with each page I read, which is great fun and encouraging!

This past week in Yamba has been fantastic and I’m so glad that I listened to the advice that brought me here.  I spent three nights in a hostel and three nights camping in total and am now on my way to Byron Bay, with only tonight planned for now.  I’m hoping to camp again, either for free or inexpensively.  It’s still the holidays here so prices are inflated accordingly, unfortunately.  So, my first two days in town were busy with surfing, watching lighting storms, seeing Pitch Perfect 3 and hanging out with cool people. J  I was meant to do Shane’s tour, and though we started, we were forced to return back to the hostel as the lighting storm made cliff jumping a little too dangerous… if you do ever end up in Yamba, sign up for Shane’s tour!  The guy’s awesome and his tour gets raving reviews!  Shane the surfing instructor is also a cool dude who clearly loves to surf and teach, a great combination!  Though I have no photographic evidence, I promise that I did manage to stand on the board, a few times, though always with help from one of the Shanes… I still don’t have the timing down for when to get up, but if pushed along, I can do it.  It’s great fun, but also more exhausting than I expected, given you’re constantly fighting waves to get out far enough to ride them back in to the beach.  My arms were sorer than expected, as well as my belly and upper ribs from being on the board.  And, unsurprisingly, my legs collected bruises… still, so much fun and absolutely no regrets!

I also went camping in Yurangir National Park, on Shelley’s Beach (pictured, on the right in the distance), which took me much longer than anticipated to find the first time, which not gonna lie caused a few tears of frustration at one point.  But, eventually, I did find it and it was beautiful – one of the most remote parts of the national park.  Of course I would find just that..  It was only about a 6km walk from the entrance to the park, so compared to the Six Foot Track, nothing at all, especially once I knew where I was going.  I only saw a handful of people throughout my stay at the campsite.  The only downside to the site was that there was no water or toilets, so the first day I walked to Lake Arragan, just about 6km further away to refill my bottles.  It wasn’t a particularly difficult walk, but it was made annoying by having to constantly dodge rather large spider webs.. even when I ended up hiking with a stick held out in front of me to help detect them earlier.  The stress came from not knowing which spiders were harmless and which were deadly.  Turns out, not many of those are dangerous at all, except one called the funnel spider that can kill you in 15s apparently.. never saw any funnelled webs so all good.  That tidbit I learned from three other travellers that joined me on my last night at the site, who also told me about a waterfall nearby.  That changed everything!  I no longer had to walk several km to find water, and a fresh water shower felt amazing!  I’d forgotten my wet wipes so was feeling pretty grimy at that stage, with layers of sunscreen, salt from the ocean and sweat, coconut oil to repel insects, etc.. It was also really nice to be in such a remote area because who needs clothes when there’s no one around!  Granted, I got a little burnt in new places, but that only hurt for a day. Turns out, my new companions felt similarly and therefore two days ago was the first time I told people about Clipper (I tell everyone), with everyone involved in the conversation completely naked!  It’s amazing what a non-issue it was.  We hung out in the evening as well (clothed at this point, no sun = chilly) and explored the tide pools looking for bioluminescent creatures.  We found them, though turns out they maybe weren’t bioluminescent in the end.  We also found sea anemones, lots of crabs, fish, an octopus, a huge sea urchin and many other little forms of life.  Very cool, something I wouldn’t have thought to do on my own.  The sky was also absolutely gorgeous, with the Milky Way visible and more stars than I think I’ve ever seen.

Back to Yamba afterwards for a night in an actual bed, a shower and laundry before taking off for Byron Bay.  I’m hoping to see the amethyst caves nearby and then perhaps find some sailing to do along the Gold Coast but otherwise I’m pretty open right now.

Melbourne & Sydney

[Once again, this was written a week ago and I’m just getting around to posting it now!  It’s a bit hectic and I will admit that it has been edited.  I did think about sharing more, but I think I’d like to keep some things to myself; the internet doesn’t need to know.  I’ve got another bus later today, in which I will write about the past week.  Maybe I’ll post on arrival in Byron Bay, if the WiFi is good…]

[The photo was taken in Katoomba, with a view of part of the Blue Mountains]

Well, on the bus again.  Thank goodness I found it.  I was worried about that for awhile, but of course it was going to work itself out.  The worrying thing was that there was no indication as to where the bus would be and no one at the station seemed to know.. went up and down the levels of the station a couple of times before finding a Canadian/Aussie couple also waiting for the same bus!  Only 8 of us on the bus makes for tons of room so sitting at the back and looking forward to laying down to rest.  I’m starting to feel tired now, probably in good part because I took out my contacts – that’s actually about exactly when I started feeling drowsy.

It’s been an emotional roller coaster of a day.  It’s been an emotional roller coaster of a past few days, starting from when I first arrived in Sydney a week ago.  That’s a long time to be on a roller coaster, much longer than I’m used to.  I’m used to being a very emotionally stable person and it’s quite confusing to feel so unstable.

I’ll start with Melbourne first.  Melbourne was great.  I didn’t do an insane amount and did actually spend quite a bit of time resting, but that was absolutely necessary – I don’t know how I would have handled this week if I was even more tired than I already was.  The temperature fluctuations surprised me.  I couldn’t believe I was using two hot water bottles, in the summer, in Australia.  It was so good to see my CISV friend Julia again, she was on the first CISV camp I ever did!  Highlights of Melbourne include seeing Aladdin, catching up with a research colleague, and meeting more great CISVers, old and new!  I also saw some penguins, though only a few as people were crowding their home and blocking their passage.. I bought a tent for only $12, which ended up being well used already, and will be again if all goes to plan!

From Melbourne, I took an overnight bus to Sydney, saving myself another night’s accommodation.  I arrived less tired than I expected, and was at least pleasantly surprised by being upgraded to a 4-person room for free at the hostel because I was so early and that was available.  That was the best thing about that hostel.  I dropped my stuff and got to exploring with the few hours I had before napping and the team Christmas party later that evening.  I visited the Botanic Gardens, of which I’d see almost an entirely different part every time I crossed through.. as well as of course the Opera House and a view of the Sydney Bridge – I walked across that on Christmas Day evening.  And finally the New South Wales Library, which was probably my favourite thing about Sydney.  A shower and a quick shop later, I was at my Clipper team Christmas party, which was a great evening of drinks, food, conversation, laughs and Secret Santa!

*Happy New Year 2018!*

A long series of decisions have led me here, to being on a bus, alone (sort of, there are 9 of us on the bus!) and tired from all the emotional stress of the past week and especially the day.  A couple of hours ago, I would have said wrong decisions.  But perhaps I shouldn’t think about it that way.  I’m here, I’m on my way to the next thing, I have a plan for the next few days and I’m feeling better about all of the past week.  Thing is, the highs were amazing.  The lows maybe weren’t that low, but they were almost all unexpected, and I think that’s why I’m so rattled.

A list of positive things that happened:

  • Room got upgraded
  • Phone got fixed on Boxing Day (after waking up Christmas morning to find it was non responsive.. and since the hostel WiFi was terrible, I was completely cut off and couldn’t connect with family or friends for Christmas)
  • Saw my Clipper team
  • Christmas lunch with a CISV family
  • Drive to Christmas lunch from a lovely stranger who I’ve subsequently been in touch with
  • Watched Doctor Who Christmas evening
  • Caught my team leaving Sydney on the Sydney-Hobart race
  • We won the race! Not by line honours, but by redress awarded for picking up a MOB
  • Met my travel companion for the next couple of days in the train station in Sydney
  • We could leave our extra stuff at the hostel for free
  • We got picked up hitchhiking to get to Explorer’s Tree, the beginning of the Six Foot Track
  • The Eco Lodge was a great find, near the first campsite
  • Four French also came on the hike once they heard about it!
  • I caught a ride back to Lithgow, from the Jenolan Caves, from which I could take a train to Katoomba
  • I found a bed to sleep that night; I’d forgotten how nice YHAs are
  • Talked to my family and my best friend
  • Sorted myself out for after Sydney

It’s a new year now, this is a new leg of the journey.  I’m only stopping in Yamba because someone I met at the Eco Lodge on the Six Foot Track recommended it, which was another really positive chance encounter!  So I intend to go surfing there, and camping nearby for a couple of free/cheap nights of accommodation.  It’ll be nice to have the tent to myself.  I think.  Assuming I do.. I have been pretty good at picking people up when I don’t mean to.

So, we do the Six Foot Track, I can’t finish going back because the heat rash is so bad so I end up having to spend a bunch of extra money on hostels, which are particularly expensive because of the time of year.. so that was stressful.  Still, having hiked the Six Foot Track is an accomplishment I think and I’m glad I did it.  45km over 3 days, of difficult terrain (lots of elevation changes), in the Australian summer heat.  It was a good challenge and certainly helped me in my goal of staying fit for the race!  So earlier today I made my way to Sydney with another new friend from my hostel and we ran into my hiking companion on the train!  It was a stressful day though, reminded of all sorts of ways I could have done things differently.. I finally got to cry when I sat in the park across from Central Station early evening and it felt really good.  Anyway I’m super sleepy now, it’s almost 1am and the first stop is in just over an hour.

North Island

[The post below was written about a week ago, but with lack of good internet connection, time in the Australian bush and a hectic past few days, I’m only posting now!]

I’m writing to you now on a bus, having left Melbourne at 10pm to arrive in Sydney around 10am tomorrow.  Things are far in Australia.  Not that far though, we’re stopping a few times for breaks and there’s a transfer in Canberra.  The express bus is 8h30 I think, but those weren’t running until Boxing Day.  I almost booked that, but realized just on time that that was completely wrong!

Anyway, this isn’t about my time in Melbourne but rather about my time on New Zealand’s North Island.  I started in Wellington, capital city and WINDY city!  I felt like I was in St. John’s all over again, had to brace against the wind and I had to pull out my jacket!  Hadn’t used any of those yet apart from up in the air or on the boat in Milford Sound!  Arriving by ferry, I was greeted by a CISV friend from Canada.  It was the first time we met, despite knowing dozens of people in common, and as it goes in CISV, of course we meet in New Zealand!  It was so great to be taken around for a change, not having to worry about orienting myself or how to get places, simply letting myself be shown around a new city.  It was wonderful, and so nice to finally meet Amy!  Over the weekend I got to catch up with Tracey, a really good CISV friend of mine from London (well, she’s from New Zealand, we met in London).  I also took the time to sort out the next couple of days, adding Rotorua to the itinerary and resting a bit when not visiting Zealandia and Te Papa, the national museum.  Zealandia is a wildlife reserve, essentially an island on the mainland by virtue of it being surrounded by a wall to keep out the pests (rats, stotes, cats, etc).  The goal is to restore the area to its previous untouched state – a goal that is estimated to take 500 years to achieve.  I got to see so many fun birds and some reptiles.  The kaka, a type of parrot, are particularly entertaining to watch because they’re so incredibly clever.  Just watching them eat and drink is so interesting.  Their food is kept in boxes and they have to stand on a weight-activated ledge to open them.  Other birds try, but as they’re calibrated for a kaka’s weight, can’t get in.  My guide (I got a one-on-one tour as I was the only one interested at the time!  Also, she was Canadian!) mentioned some research done with the kaka where they blocked the boxes from opening by putting a rock under the ledges.  They still got to the food in the end, though the younger birds got to the food faster than the older ones.  I spent some time (though not enough!) in the Gallipoli exhibition at Te Papa, which was incredibly done!  I never enjoy reading about war, but I think it was important to learn about this battle that I knew nothing about, as Canada wasn’t involved in it.  Giant life-like statues of soldiers, and one a nurse, introduced each section, with the narrative focusing on those particular individuals as we moved through history.

Early morning on the following Tuesday I was on my way to Rotorua, a journey that would take most of the day, again with stops (cause buses in NZ don’t have toilets in them.. so you have to rely on a stop every couple of hours for a toilet).  Rotorua was bigger than I expected, having it in my mind that aside from Auckland, Hamilton and Wellington, everything else in NZ was pretty tiny, particularly from my experience so far on the South Island.  I spent my first afternoon/evening just walking around, through the lovely sulphurous smell to the public park where you could put your feet in a hot pool and see lots of geothermal activity.  It’s totally mesmerizing to watch water bubble or just smoke off the surface of a pool of absolutely clear water or just hear bubbling coming from holes in the ground.  I ran into a French Canadian couple and we walked together for a couple of hours, following the coast until we were back in town.  I then went to get a tattoo!  I had popped into a shop earlier out of curiosity and got a great quote and the artist had time later in the evening.  I wasn’t quite prepared mentally to do it then, but at least I had a couple of hours.  I was nervous right up until I saw the finished product.  I’m very happy with my cute ‘lil Hufflepuff badger J

For my only full day in Rotorua, I went to Whakarewarewa, the living Maori Village nearby, the only place in the world where humans live on geothermal land.  They use it to cook and to bathe daily.  We got a tour, a piece of corn cooked in one of the pools and saw a cultural performance, which of course included a haka but also songs with poi, little white balls at the ends of strings used percussively and a love song among other pieces.  I learned more about these performances later, as I was sitting beside a performer for the first little bit of my flight to Melbourne.  Each performance starts with an introduction and can be in the form of the group’s choosing i.e. haka or chant.  Then there’s a chant, a haka, poi, and a closing song and the whole thing takes about half an hour.  The competitions are a big deal and each region has their own styles.  Groups are judged on content/message and dance as well as the music.  Anyway after the village I went to the Redwood forest, which brought me right back to San Francisco!  I was really tired by mid-afternoon and realized I was fighting a cold, so I went back to the hostel and rested for the rest of the evening.

The next day, I headed to Hamilton to meet up with a friend from 33Sixty!  We went to Hamilton Gardens, which are so much more impressive than I expected, with probably about a dozen (fairly large) gardens, each with a different theme.  There are new gardens being developed now too!  Plus, it’s free right now, though they are introducing a charge for non-residents soon.  We got Vietnamese for dinner and went to see the new Star Wars, which, without spoilers, I will say I really enjoyed, despite it feeling kind of never-ending.  Really nice character development for Kylo Ren going on.  Got to help out a little at a Red Cross event, a market where all stalls are run by refugees, before heading to Auckland, my final stop for New Zealand!

Auckland was a place to rest.  I spent a day sailing, which was great fun and made me realize that I know more than I thought I did, which is always nice.  Being a much smaller sailboat that the Clipper ones I’d only ever sailed on previously, it was a bit of adjustment, but I think much easier to go smaller than to go bigger!  The main sail could be moved along its track by hand!!  No winches needed.  Amazing.  I also realized that I’ve not only been trained to sail, but I’ve been trained to race.  I was a little surprised when no one seemed bothered that the sails weren’t trimmed for maximum performance, because there’s nothing less on a Clipper boat!  But we were out for a leisurely sail, as long as we were moving it was all good.  Still, with one of the other crew, we took turns on the helm and at one point with myself helming and him trimming, we got the boat to 6.3kn, apparently among the fastest speeds it can do!  It was great fun and very satisfying!  I drove the boat out of our parking spot in the bay we visited and drove it back into its berth, skip seemed quite happy to let me do that and I was surprised how comfortable I was doing it too!  Not that I’d want to do the same with a Clipper boat just yet, those things are much too big!  Aside from a day of sailing, I spent a lot of time indoors just watching Netflix.  After a month of travelling, I didn’t feel up to being a tourist and needed a break, especially in a city.  I’m sure there was lots to do, but I don’t regret it or feel like I missed out on anything.  I climbed Mt Eden (picture), visited another friend from 33Sixty, and went to my CISV friend and host’s birthday party on my last day and that was enough for me.  It was great to catch up with friends and to have the time to cook in a kitchen with all the basics, and to just relax for a bit.  For that, I really enjoyed Auckland.

My favourite thing about the North Island was the change of pace from the South.  I got the chance to let myself be taken around a lot more, saw a bunch of friends that are so far away otherwise, got a little sail in, learned more about Maori culture (though primarily at the airport just before leaving from a new friend I met at check in and the lady in the plane!), and got the chance to relax before heading to Oz!

South Island

South Island

While substantially more delay than I ever intended, I write now from Rotorua on the North Island, apparently over two weeks since the last time I wrote!  Time has moved both too fast and too slowly and I find myself in my last days in New Zealand, flying to Oz on Tuesday.  I will write about the South Island now, leaving the North Island for another day.

Last time I wrote, I was in Franz Josef – feels like ages ago!  What I really liked about the rest of my time on the South Island is that the plan was simply: go North until I get to Picton to take the ferry to Wellington on December 9th.  So I had just under two weeks to make my way North, and it has been a great way to travel.  Perhaps a tad more expensive due to needing hostels last minute and changes of plans but overall still managed to keep costs low and have a blast.

In Franz Josef, I originally only had one night booked and after visiting the i-Site (info centre), I decided to stay another.  I was excited to try camping at a hostel for the first time, as many have camping spaces for backpackers.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed as I didn’t have a tent – I was planning on just camping in my sleeping bag, as I’d done on my cycle trip, but the hostel didn’t like that so I got a room.  Turned out to be a good thing as I met my travel companion for the next 24h there!  But, before that, I hiked Robert’s Point, a solid 4h walk with long suspended bridges (some maximum capacity = 1 person!), crossing little streams and a bit of fairly vertical climbing – I definitely used my arms quite a bit on this one!  This walk led to a lovely view of the Franz Josef glacier, which I hate to say I didn’t find all that impressive.  I enjoyed walking through rainforest a lot more, though the contrast between rainforest and glacier was cool.  I had extended my stay so that I could also do the Glacier Valley walk, which after Robert’s Point did not seem worth it all.  Nevertheless, I did do it the next day after meeting my new friend, a lawyer from the States who was also travelling North without any specific plan!  We got along right off the bat, I share my name with one of his daughters and we’ve got similar global outlooks.  He had a car and I navigated so after the Glacier Valley walk off we went Northbound!  We stopped in Hokitika for lunch by the Tasman Sea and had a little walk around town, where we decided to get to Greymouth for the evening.

Greymouth is the beginning of the next 10 days as that’s where I met my next travel companion!  We met because I was playing piano at the hostel where we were staying.  I was so excited to see a piano, I had to play!  He then invited me out for drinks with a group of young people going out so I joined them and by the end of the night we decided to travel together until I left for the North Island.  We were both on foot, so we would hitch hike our way around the South Island.

The next day, we hung out in Greymouth, getting bikes from the hostel for a little trip to the beach and exploring a cave on the way back.  By early evening, we figured we should get a move on hitch hiking to get to Punakaiki, where the Pancake Rocks can be found.  Our first offer for a ride was to get us half way there, which turned out to be perfectly fine.  I asked our new friend where we could camp if we didn’t find another ride, and she offered her land!  There was a fire pit, it was 10 minutes from the beach and it was a lovely clear evening.  Apart from the sandflies, it was great!  And we helped her paint the truck she was working on in exchange 🙂  The next morning we didn’t have to wait long for a ride to Punakaiki where I saw the Pancake Rocks (my companion had seen them already).  We then set our sights for Nelson and were picked up by a Canadian family from Saskatchewan!

I was keen to hike in Abel Tasman, so we took the time in Nelson to plan our trip, four nights in Abel Tasman before going back to Nelson to pick up our stuff (we weren’t going to carry all our things on this hike, it was way too much!) and then head to Picton.  Needless to say our time in Abel Tasman did not go as planned.. but it was probably better for it.  We were originally going to do only hiking, and mostly the same areas back and forth at that because of timing and campsite availability.  In the end, we spent one evening hiking (having taken 4 rides to get to the park the first day!), the next day changing plans around (which wasn’t easy in a place with no phone service!), and the last two on the water, having figured out how to rent a kayak!  It was so nice to be on the water, and with long sleeve shirts, well protected from the sun, easily cooled by simply splashing water on yourself – or getting it splashed on you… We kayaked with seals, with one even following us for a little bit, which was definitely a highlight of that week for me!  However, we weren’t quite prepared enough camping and food-wise, so we decided to leave an evening early to stay in Stoke, near Nelson, where one of our rides to Abel Tasman lived – he had offered us his place to crash if ever we needed!  It was a great evening, with wine and great conversation!  Oh, that photo is of one of the beaches of Abel Tasman.  I found it online because my phone is elsewhere charging, but I’ve got a similar photo somewhere so it’s accurate enough!

With Abel Tasman having taken up most of the week, before long we were in Picton and it was time to part ways.  It was as though we’d spent ages and no time at all together, at the same time.  But both being travelers, there’s a good chance we’ll cross paths again 🙂

I’m aware that this is a very surface level description of what I’ve been up to, but rest assured I have kept a more detailed record in my planner!  I found it difficult to take the time to write a blog while traveling with others.  Speaking of which, as much as I enjoyed having a companion for most of my travels and seeing friends in Wellington, I am also happy to be alone for a little bit before I see friends again in Hamilton, Auckland and Melbourne.  So, I’ll aim to write again when I get to Oz, but perhaps no promises!

Queenstown

Queenstown

Having originally only booked three nights in Queenstown, I ended up extending my stay another three to leave first thing this morning for Franz Josef.

It’s been a week of ups and downs, moments of bliss and relaxation and others of total stress!  Thankfully the stress was short-lived.  Upon arrival, I spent some time walking around town and found the Queenstown Gardens right next to my hostel, which are an absolutely gorgeous place to run in the morning, along the lake with the mountains as a backdrop.  Stunning.  On Wednesday I decided fairly last minute to hike Ben Lomond (photo is from the top!), which was challenging, but absolutely worth the amazing view, plus I had good company!  I ran into three other hikers about an hour in, from Israel and France, and joined them for the remainder of the day.  Hike, drink stop at the gondola on the way down, and dinner at Ferg Burger, which is apparently quite famous.  I had a yummy falafel burger.

On Thursday I took a day tour to Milford Sound, which was a lovely day out and an absolutely gorgeous cruise on the Sound itself – we saw seals and I made sure I was at the bow to get a ‘glacial facial’ as it’s called when skip dipped into the tallest waterfall of the area.  Freezing cold but refreshing!  The water ways here are amazing, crystal clear and drinkable, all glacial.  The whole landscape in this area is shaped by glaciers and it’s amazing to witness the power of ice & water over time.

Friday I took an easy day, stayed in the hostel for the day, did laundry and went out in the evening with a friend from the hostel.  I had been going to sleep around 9:30/10:00 so far because I was so tired from long days and the journey over so I took a day to recoup.  I’m glad I did, it was much needed!

Saturday I went to Wanaka for the day, another small town fairly nearby.  This was the first time I’ve ever hitchhiked, and apart from the stress of trying to return on time, it was a very positive experience.  Drivers are very nice here and do stop, as everyone had been telling me.  It was easier to get there than back, though I did get back in the end, with plenty of time to spare to have a nice evening.  Although, I found out that evening that the bus for the next day was sold out so I had to find a place to stay for Sunday night, move my booking in Franz Josef and book the bus for Monday ASAP.  Plus potentially needing a different Chinese visa than the one I have, but still waiting on confirmation of that so I’ve decided not to stress about it until I find out for sure if I need to start an application.  But on the plus side, I met a great group of people from England & Scotland and we spent Sunday afternoon playing disc golf, followed by a movie night.  And that takes me to this morning, hopping on the bus to Franz Josef!

I’ve got a couple of hikes planned for the area and not much planned after that.  I’ve decided from my first hitchhiking experience that it’s too stressful to try and get somewhere at a certain time, so for the next week at least I have nowhere specific in mind and will go where I can get a ride, camping along the way as I have all my gear with me!  Then I’ll start lining myself up to get to Wellington with a couple of days of leeway to account for hitchhiking.  I have a NZ SIM now and can text friends here licence plates numbers when I get into cars to be as safe as possible so don’t worry 🙂

It still blows my mind a little bit that I’m on the other side of the world.  And that the race is now only one leg away!  Speaking of the race, I’m so proud of my team for coming in 9th even after doing a medevac and picking up Greenings team members, what a catch up!  Hoping to see the team in Sydney for Christmas!  For now, time for sleep before hiking Robert’s point tomorrow!