A bad day on the road in New Zealand…

I always share the good parts of my travels and trips but rarely do I mention the bad bits. Whilst I have been lucky and not experienced too much in the way of bad events on my adventures so far, I thought I would share a very unfortunate day I had while Matt and I were on a road trip in New Zealand. Every trip surely has to have a bad day and this is mine…
Day 11 of travelling around New Zealand’s South Island we were leaving Queenstown around lunchtime en route to Te Anau. We’d made the decision over breakfast that morning to go to Milford Sound, to break up the journey we would stop over night in Te Anau. The drive was around three hours and with a trip to a glowworm cave booked for 6pm we were keen to get on the road. Stopping for fuel on the outskirts of Queenstown I took the opportunity, as you do to go to the toilet. I had my purse with me and not wanting to put it on the floor I rested it on the hook on the back of the door. All fuelled up we set off, driving along the winding road we stopped to take photos along the way of the gorgeous scenery and the mesmerising blue waters of Lake Wakatipu. An hour into the journey I noticed my credit card was in the pocket of my jeans, pulling it out I went to put it in my purse. It suddenly dawned on me that I didn’t have my purse and I knew exactly where it was! Heart pounding and now heading back the way we had just come I hurriedly searched online for fuel stations in Queenstown, desperately trying to remember the name of the one we had been in. Thankfully I found it along with a phone number. I was relieved to find out that my purse had been found and put in the garage safe, but I had a lot of cash in it and was hoping it would still be in there. It seemed like the longest hour back to Queenstown, pulling in at the fuel station I jumped out and ran in. I was so grateful to the staff for keeping it safe and was relieved to find all the money still inside. Drama over it was back on the road and my turn in the driving seat. We were now pushed for time and were rushing as we wanted to get to Te Anau before 6pm. Half way there I admittedly was driving too fast, with no one else on the road for miles and miles it was easy to get carried away and attempting to make up for the time we lost I sped on. Unfortunately over the brow of a hill a police car passed us in the opposite direction, before I knew it the vehicle had turned around, lights flashing and appeared behind us. Pulling over I started to cry knowing I had gone above the speed limit. The police officer was very nice about it all and could see how upset I was, we even joked about what a bad day I was having after explaining about leaving my purse behind. But of course there are no excuses, I was speeding and I got a rather hefty $90 fine. Continuing on the road I was still upset and now angry with myself for having been so stupid, lesson learnt I stuck to the speed limit and we arrived at our campground in Te Anau with just enough time to cook dinner and have a rum and ginger to calm my nerves! Although the last thing I felt like doing was going on a trip it turned out to be a really great adventure, exploring caves with under water rivers and floating around in a boat in the darkness staring up at hundreds of beautiful glowworms; it was a happy end to the day!
Have you had any bad experiences whilst travelling? Let me know in the comments below…

 

New Zealand hostels…not just dorms and bunks

When Matt and I visited New Zealand’s South Island last year not only did we sleep in a campervan, (if you fancy taking a look at my blog on this here’s the link: 10 day road trip itinerary South Island New Zealand) when it got really, really cold we stayed in a few hostels too.  Having never set foot in a hostel before I was unsure what to expect and didn’t know if I liked the idea of sleeping in a bunk bed surrounded by strangers.  Not that there is anything wrong with this style of travelling, it’s just not something I had experienced before and I wasn’t sure if it was my ‘thing’.  How wrong I was…

 

Nomads Queenstown
Having driven four hours from Lake Tekapo to Queenstown with plenty of scenic stops along the way the sun was beginning to set and the temperature was beginning to chill down when we arrived.  Struggling to find a campsite we chose to stay in a hostel for the night.  Strolling into Nomads in the centre of town we had a chat to the reception staff who showed us a few rooms.  I was blown away!  We went for a private en suite double, with a balcony overlooking Lake Wakatipu and the mountains.  The room wasn’t the cheapest we could’ve picked in the hostel at around £70, but breakfast and dinner were also included so we thought it was actually a pretty good deal.  I had mistakenly believed that hostels were just shared dorm style rooms, of course there are plenty of rooms like this but I had not realised private rooms existed in backpackers.  Heading for dinner early, (served on a first come first serve basis so we didn’t want to miss out) we took our place in the queue ready for that night’s option of sausage and mash.  I have to say this is where I felt my age; everyone around was a good ten years younger than us!  I felt even older when someone handing out flyers for a bar mentioned that the flyer came with a free drink served at 10pm….that’s pretty much my bedtime these days!  Tucking into our free dinner by the fireplace a group of guys appeared and performed a very impressive Hakka.  I’m not sure the reason behind it but I really enjoyed watching, it was a great reminder of New Zealand’s traditions.  After eating we caught on quickly to the fact that you washed up your own dishes!  The hostel was really clean and very quiet at night.  Nomads also had a tour desk, this was really useful as we booked a days snowboarding at Cardrona for the following day.  Free WiFi, breakfast and dinner, Nomads had completely changed my mind on hostels!


YHA Franz Josef
The next hostel stay on the trip was a YHA in the glacier town of Franz Josef.  Set just back off the main road it was the perfect base within walking distance of the town’s shops and bars and for our planned helicopter tour of Franz Josef Glacier.  The hostel had a resident cat who was very sociable, a lovely communal lounge area with fire, ample cooking space in the kitchen and free soup available in the evening.  It was really quiet during our stay; we had a double room with a large en suite.  This YHA also had a free sauna too.  We found that hostels were great for washing our clothes as they all had laundry rooms.  We often went straight to the washing machines before heading out to explore, such a good opportunity when you are living in a van!

 

YHA Queenstown Lakefront
We stayed at the YHA Queenstown Lakefront backpackers after our day of snowboarding at Cardrona so we didn’t spend all that much time in the hostel itself.  We did some washing(!), walked into town for dinner and the following morning had breakfast in town before getting back on the road.  It was a really nice ten-minute walk along Lake Wakatipu into Queenstown with a stunning backdrop of The Remarkables mountain range.  In this hostel we chose a private double with shared toilets and showers, which was absolutely fine.

The walk along Lake Wakatipu from YHA Lakefront in Queenstown

 YHA Hokitika Birdsong Backpackers
Birdsong backpackers was by far my favourite hostel out of the four we stayed at.  It was much smaller than the rest and owned by Neil and Kerry, a lovely English couple.  Kerry, an artist had done artwork in all the rooms; I bought a little print of hers to remind me of our stay there.  With accommodation for only twenty people this hostel had a cosy, homely feel to it.  We had a spacious ground floor room with shared bathroom facilities.  A nice sun terrace with a barbecue, shared kitchen and lounge area with sofas in front of a log burner made this small hostel feel like a home from home.  The lounge found on the first floor had fantastic views of the beach, which was just over the road.  On our night there, we met a lovely British girl who’s Father had come over from the UK to train with her for a huge bike ride she had planned in America and a group of Malaysian’s who were very interested in our cooking!  Lamb, roasted vegetables and cous cous was our evenings meal; they were intrigued by the cous cous, having never seen it before.  So we shared it with them, which they loved!  The one thing hostels have taught me is how easy it is to meet like-minded people from all over the world, even if there is a language barrier you can still get by.  Birdsong also had an outdoor ‘Bushman’s’ bath, although it was a little chilly at the time to use it!  A small Glow Worm dell just along the road and the ocean a few steps away, completed the loveliness of this quirky hostel.
Queenstown Top 10 Holiday Park
Although this is not strictly speaking a hostel, I loved our little cabin at Queenstown Holiday Park so much I just had to mention it.  A ten minute drive from Queenstown it can be found right by Shooter River.  With a double bed and bunk beds inside, it’s a great place to stay if you are on a budget.  The cosy cabin was perfect for the night; we had takeaway fish and chips from Aggy’s Shack in Queenstown and got an early night ready for the long drive to Milford Sound the following morning.
Our cabin at Shooter Holiday Park

 

It is worth mentioning that YHA have a membership scheme offering discounts on rooms, travel, and activities in New Zealand and we found free WiFi in all the hostels we stayed in.  It is also worth having a look at rooms before you commit to them, we managed to get a bit of a discount this way too.  Prior to this trip I had never considered staying in hostels before, I hadn’t realised that most have private rooms either.  I met lots of like-minded people during our stays and will definitely consider staying in hostels in the future if and when we do another trip like this one.  It’s a great way to save money with cheaper room prices than hotels and if you are on a long trip you can save money by cooking your own meals in the very well equipped kitchens too.  From cosy to all singing and dancing, backpackers come in all shapes and sizes to suit different travellers needs and budgets.  I am a hostel virgin no more!
What do you think about hostels? Any favourites around the world? I’d love to hear your thoughts…

10 day road trip itinerary South Island New Zealand…

I am now back from my adventures, over my jet lag and excited to share all the experiences from my road trip on New Zealand’s South Island.
Matt and I collaborated with campervan hire company Jucy; I’m looking forward to putting up links to my work for them very soon.  We had a Jucy Cabana van, it was small and compact with everything we needed, really great to drive and pretty economical too.  It came equipped with snow chains, DVD player and a ‘kitchen’ in the boot that consisted of a gas stove, storage space with crockery and cutlery and a small chiller.  It also included a duvet, pillows, linen and towels.  All ready to go!  Our Cabana didn’t have electric hook up so if you are in New Zealand during the winter months my top tip would be to purchase hot water bottles; they were a lifesaver at night!
Hiring a car or campervan is the best way to see this diverse island; it gives you the freedom to see and do what you want and to create your own adventures.  We started out from Christchurch and drove towards Lake Tekapo; I have to admit during the first 2 hours of driving we felt quite underwhelmed by our surroundings, fields and fields of sheep and scenery that reminded us of the UK!  That all changed though as we got closer to the mountains.  Miles of straight road and snow-capped mountains led us to Lake Tekapo…more about this beautiful place coming up.  From Lake Tekapo we drove to Queenstown, then to Te Anau, Milford Sound, back to Queenstown and then onto the west coast where we stopped at Hokitika and finally back to Christchurch.
I thought I would write about my favourite experiences on the South Island, so if you are planning a trip yourself make sure you don’t miss these out on your agenda…

 

Lake Tekapo:
Lake Tekapo was the first place we stopped to camp.  The campsite, Lake Tekapo Holiday Park was lovely and our pitch had uninterrupted views of the lake and the mountains.  I loved waking up to the beautiful scenery and eating porridge outside in the chilly, fresh air.  The colour of the lake is worth a mention, a mesmerising soapy blue; this comes from the minerals left in the water from past glaciers.  The small town was a short stroll along the lake and had a convenience store, a few nice coffee shops and a handful of bars and restaurants.  Our favourite was Mackenzie’s a nice, cosy bar and restaurant and a great place to escape the cold!  This was the first time in our trip that we came across Monteith’s craft beer and cider.  We tried a tasting paddle, perfect for sampling a few drinks at once!  Lake Tekapo Springs just along from the campsite had three hot pools an ice rink and a tube park.  We ice-skated and went tubing, which basically consisted of jumping on a round tube and zooming down the 150-metre snow slope!  It was brilliant fun and pretty exhilarating!

 

A lunch stop by Lake Oahu:
There were so many stunning lakes that we came across on our road trip but Lake Oahu stood out for me.  Leaving Lake Tekapo behind we drove past Lake Pukaki, Mount Cook National Park where we had fantastic views of Mount Cook from the road and stumbled across a salmon farm.  We stopped to have a look around, fed the salmon and bought a salmon and cream cheese bagel and some sashimi all produced from the farm.  We wanted to find a nice spot to enjoy our high country ‘catch’ and that’s when we came across Lake Oahu, it was a bit of a mission off the main road but well worth it.  We sat on the edge of the lake enjoying our sashimi surrounded by nothing but mountains, lake and silence.  The silence was incredible I don’t think I’ve been anywhere before where there was so much stillness.  Sometimes it’s the simple things that are the best and this is a really special memory of mine from the trip.

 

Milford Sound:
We booked a boat trip on Milford Sound with Jucy Cruize.  It was 1 hour 30 in total, we cruised all the way along to the Tasman Sea, past a beautiful waterfall and incredible scenery.  Milford gets around 8-10 meters of rainfall a year and is counted as one of the wettest places in the world, we were extremely lucky the day we went as it was sunny and dry.  It is also known for sandflies, we were lucky with that too as there weren’t too many of them around!

 

Te Anau Glowworm trip:
Te Anau is a small town in the Fiordland situated on Lake Te Anau, the largest lake on the South Island.  It is a good place to stay the night if you want to break up the journey to Milford Sound.  From here Matt and I went on a brilliant trip to the Te Anau glowworm caves, only accessible via a 25 minute boat trip across the lake.  Ducking down to enter the cave system we were greeted by the loud sound of rushing water.  The cave has 7 km of passages carved out by alpine water, so clean that we got to taste it from the cave!  Following the underground stream through 250 metres of the cave past waterfalls we eventually got into a small boat and drifted into the darkness leaving the rush of water behind.  All became silent.  Floating in the glowworm grotto it became very tranquil and looking up all I could see were the green lights of hundreds of tiny glowworms.  No photos were allowed in the caves to allow your eyes to adjust to the darkness and so as not to disturb the glowworms.  We booked our trip through Real Journeys who have an office in Te Anau right by the lake.  It was a pretty special experience and one I would definitely recommend.

 

Queenstown:
Queenstown is a very cool place indeed.  Nestled between all the key ski fields, The Remarkables and Coronet, also relatively nearby are Treble Cone and Cardrona.  We unfortunately only got to spend two nights there so didn’t get to do and see everything that we wanted to and there is so much to do!  Snowboarding was high on our agenda; we booked a day trip to Cardrona from Queenstown.  It was a full day on the snow and lots of fun.  In the evenings we enjoyed relaxing in the bars and sampling the local alcohol!  My favourite was Monteith’s cider, which I first tried at Lake Tekapo.  I love New Zealand’s pub culture it seemed very similar to the UK and very social.  One night we ate at The Cow, found on Cow Street.  It is slightly hidden away but well worth finding.  We stepped inside and were welcomed by a warm cosy atmosphere, and lots of character.  An open fire, candlelight and bustling atmosphere made the tiny pub feel very cosy.  A tasty simple Italian menu featuring pizza, pasta, one dessert – ice cream sundae and a good wine menu was just what we needed after a day on the snow.
We also ate at Fergburger, which is obligatory if you are in Queenstown and picked up takeaway fish and chips from Aggy’s Shack a small hut by the lake.  It has got to be the best fish and chips I’ve had in a long time and that’s coming from a Brit.  We also ordered a portion of green-lipped mussels, they were huge!  There were all sorts of interesting things to order too such as smoked eel and sea urchin.  Definitely worth a visit.
Things we didn’t get time to do in Queenstown included the Skyline Gondola, which goes up to 450 metres above Queenstown to the top of Bob’s Peak.  I would loved to have seen the views from there!  A jet boat ride on the Shotover River, panning for gold in nearby Arrowtown and wine tasting.  With lots of unfinished business we’ll have to go back!

 

Helicopter trip over the glaciers:
A Helicopter trip over Fox and Franz Josef glacier, past Mount Cook and a snow landing high up on a mountainside was breathtaking!  The views of the glaciers from the air were incredible, icy blue in colour and enormous in size.  The beauty of these natural wonders blew me away.  We flew over mountain ridges and very close to Mount Cook.  It was such a surreal experience, I tried not to take too many photos so I could just enjoy the moment and take it all in.  I also spotted people at the top of the glacier and walkers huts with red roofs high up on the mountaintops.  A helicopter in front of us looked so tiny in perspective to the mountain!  We booked this trip with Glacier Helicopters it was 40 minutes in duration, which is the longest one you could do at a cost of around £200 each.  Although pricey it was worth every penny!

 

My Favourite drives:
The Crown Range to Queenstown is an epic route with its zig zagging mountain roads and at 70km above sea level it is the highest route in New Zealand.  It must be a pretty hairy drive in the depths of winter!  The views of Queenstown, Arrowtown, vineyards, Lake Wakatipu and the mountain ranges are awesome and definitely worth stopping at the various viewpoints for photos.
There is a maximum speed limit on major roads of 100km/h, make sure you stick to this and others as the police are pretty strict at enforcing the speed limits.  Always allow yourself longer than planned to get to destinations due to the nature of the roads.  For example some have frequent landslides and may only have one lane open, mountain roads can be steep with hairpin bends, or there could be avalanche warnings.  Along with factoring in extra time to stop off to take photos and admire views.  If there is someone behind you driving a bit faster just pull over, we did this a lot, it made the drives much more enjoyable.  But generally the roads are so quiet we often drove for miles and miles and even hours without another car insight.
The drive to Milford Sound is a fantastic one; the road through the Homer tunnel at around 100 kms from Te Anau is pretty interesting; it stretches for 1.2km through the mountain, at a height of 945 meters above sea level.  If you are going to visit Milford Sound I really recommend driving yourself, it’s 4.5 hours from Queenstown so a coach trip means a very long day but if you drive yourself you can break the journey up.  We drove from Queenstown to Te Anau stayed the night, then got up really early the following morning and drove to Milford Sound.  Without stopping it’s 2 hours but allow extra time as there are some spectacular viewpoints and short walks to some beautiful waterfalls.  It was worth going there for the epic drive alone!  Be sure to fuel up in Te Anau as it is the last place to get fuel on the road to Milford Sound, there is none at Milford either.
Arthur’s Pass was another great drive, we did this last on the way back to Christchurch, stop for a hot drink and cake at Arthur’s Pass village and look out for Kea, these large parrots are very nosy and extremely clever; make sure you watch your food around them as they will do their best to nab anything edible from you!
I had heard so much about the stunning scenery in New Zealand before I went but I was completely blown away by its beauty and ever-changing landscape, from lakes and mountains to coast and tropical rainforest, I just couldn’t stop taking photos!  Whatever you choose to do in New Zealand you won’t ever be bored.  I did and saw so much on my short trip but there is still so much more I want to see and do out there, I will definitely need to visit again!
If you have already been I’d love to hear about your favourite NZ experiences…