A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: EMCAT

The Ad-VAN-ture Continues

Van Life, Part 2

How is that for a morning view

How is that for a morning view

I will start this blog how I always start them - by acknowledging that this is hella late. My excuse this time is that I had to give my work laptop back in May when I finished my job, and I hate typing on a travel keyboard. However I've just started work again, so back in business with a bigger keyboard. Don't tell them, but it's the only reason I accepted the job...

Breakfast with the ducklings

Breakfast with the ducklings

The date is 13th January 2023. In fair Queenstown where we lay our scene. We had left Arrowtown and were heading to our next campsite. It was a hilly road that turned into a gravel track for about 7km, which obviously we thoroughly enjoyed in our sketchy van, and we definitely didn't think it would break... After a couple of stops to let sheep move out of the way, we arrived and all thoughts of regret over our life choices vanished. We'd found another stunning spot by a lake. Zero phone signal but maximum views.

During our afternoon ritual of napping and playing cards, we heard the distant sound of bagpipes, coming from an island in the middle of the lake. Incredibly weird but at least whoever it was could play them well. Much better than Ross Gellar anyway.

Just a coupla kids on a jet boat

Just a coupla kids on a jet boat

In the morning we had breakfast with a family of friendly ducks, before braving the long gravel road back to Queenstown, with a few more sheep stops of course. Second breakfast included a massive "slice" of carrot cake by Lake Wakatipu. Then we traversed the lake on a high speed jet boat, which was incredibly fun.

Another day, another beautiful, and free campsite for us to find on another part of the lake. Still surrounded by mountains, and with beaches too, thankfully this one did not require a long bumpy drive. We met a lovely Irish man who gave us some marshmallows for toasting, and his young son who could be a bit of an oversharer...

Next on our itinerary of expensive adventure activities was paragliding. I'd done this once before in Turkey, and my family have always laughed about how the only safety instructions we got were "when I say run, run".

When I met the instructor, I asked him if he'd been paragliding before, but he did not seem to fully appreciate my sense of humour! Gliding over the mountains was incredible, and to quote every British person when the sun comes out, "absolute day for it". When we landed, my instructor pointed out Catherine still in the air. Everyone could hear her screaming/laughing, even from the ground!

Para para paraglide

Para para paraglide

To be honest it wasn't much more extensive than that in New Zealand. I guess there's not that much to it (as a passenger at least).

You can't go to Queenstown without having a Fergburger (it's actually illegal, look it up), so we joined the huge dinnertime queue of others carrying out their moral/civic duty. It's like this every day in summer, so they have staff handing out menus and umbrellas while you wait in the sun. We were out in less than 40 minutes, which we didn't think was too bad. I wouldn't wait that long for a McDonald's, but this burger was pretty bangin'. I followed it up with an ice cream from Mrs Ferg's Gelateria, as is my right.

My faves - ice cream and sunsets

My faves - ice cream and sunsets

We'd been trying to go paddleboarding for a few days but it was always booked out, though we finally managed to book the first slot the next morning. We got to the beach early and the lake was super quiet and calm. I managed to stand up for a few very brief periods, while Catherine was much more of a pro. About 20 minutes in though, the weather turned out of nowhere. Suddenly it was very choppy and way more difficult, though still fun. By the time our hour was up, they had put away all the equipment and called it a day due to the weather, so we were the only people to go out. Another stroke of good luck.

After a trip to Fergbaker (we didn't manage to complete the Ferg-quadfecta as we missed the bar), we boarded the 4WD coach that took us high into the mountains. They conveniently gave us a video to watch as we scaled a near-vertical cliff edge. Up here is where I did the (in)famous Nevis Swing - 160m in the air with a 300m swing over a canyon. It was way more fun than the bungy I did in Taupo, as it lasts much longer, and you don't have to make yourself jump! It was the best way to end my Queenstown adventure.

Swinging around

Swinging around

From one swing to another... the next day we found the famous Milford Sound Swing, after the absolutely stunning drive from Te Anau, which did turn to scary at one point. While driving on a slightly gravelly, uphill road, the vibrations caused the lock on the side of our van to come loose, and the 7kg gas canister came out of its compartment while driving. Luckily, the hose which attaches it to the stove was strong enough to hold it, so it dangled precariously on the outside of the van while I frantically searched for a space to pull over, without injuring the line of traffic behind us. While parked up we tried to tighten the lock, to no avail, so we taped it shut. Yet another issue to add to our growing complaint email to the rental company.

Heartrates definitely raised, we made it to Milford Sound, and did some walking (and swinging) while we waited for our cruise. The boat took us through the fjords and under waterfalls. At this point I've run out of synonyms for beautiful.

The absolute highlight of our trip came in Te Anau. We had googled 'things to do' and with a plethora of glowing, 5 stars reviews on google, we couldn't miss the world-renowned trout observatory. Suffice to say, we were not disappointed. After paying $2 to get through the turnstile, we were greeted with two tanks, filled with a whopping 8 trout. Glorious. Of course we spent the evening composing our own laudatory review.

Our next stop was Cromwell. The historic precinct was a bit weird, lots of 1860s gold town buildings. It was a boiling hot day so we thought we'd chill with a nice cold bevaragino, but we thought wrong. We got rejected as we didn't have our passports on us. No bevs for us then, we had to settle for an ice cream instead. Woe is me.

I know I've said this a lot but we stayed at yet another [insert word for beautiful here] free campsite, this time by Lake Dunstan. However that was nothing in comparison to the next night, at Lake Pukaki. Hands down the most stunning spot we stayed at.

I've looked up some synonyms for beautiful to mix it up a bit: alluring, handsome, ravishing, beguiling, drop-dead gorgeous, bonny, tasty, knockout, spunky, and my new favourite - pulchritudinous. I will be using these going forward.

Lake Pukaki

Lake Pukaki

So this lake was super handsome and ravishing. It was so blue, and you could see Mt Cook in the background. We went for a swim and a walk around the lake. There was no drinking water at this campsite, and Catherine was scared we didn't have enough. So she drove into town to get some while I took up as much space as possible in a camping chair, and stared down other campers to keep our good parking spot. For me that was scarier than what we did the next day...

...Skydiving! We'd both done it before, in Airlie Beach, coincidentally with the same instructor, but on different days. This was quite a different experience, being that it was over mountains rather than beaches, and there were only 3 of us (plus 3 instructors and a pilot) on the plane, rather than busloads of backpackers in Australia. The cold air and ice rushed against our faces as we freefalled (freefell?) towards the earth. I had to consciously keep my mouth shut. Neither of us could justify paying for the photo package, which was fine as we already had the iconic photo of our faces melting away. The third guy did though, so we asked him if we could see his videos, to get screenshots of us cheapskates in the background.

Mountains and models

Mountains and models

On the way to Mount Cook, we stopped at another lavender farm, for longer than intended due to Catherine dropping her phone among the rows of lavender! We (I) finally found it, so we headed to the bottom of Mount Cook to walk the Hooker Valley track, which I loved. The views were stunning babes. What was disappointing though, was that there was nowhere to get ice cream when we finished.

We spent an incredibly long time on the drive back, posing for photos in the middle of the road. Gotta get that shot for the 'gram though.

On we went, to, would you believe it? Another campsite by a lake. It seems New Zealand is full of 'em. This one is Tekapo. That night I did a stargazing tour in a thermal hot spring. The area is the largest dark sky reserve in the southern hemisphere. Light pollution is controlled and it has a busy night sky. We got to look through fancy telescopes and then float in a hot spring while learning about the universe. Very cool.

Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo

It was all going too well really wasn't it? On our way out of Tekapo, we stopped at this place on the side of the road, with 1950s American-style shop fronts and decor. It was full of weird paraphernalia, but was interesting enough for a 15 minute stop. Hahaha. When we got back in the van, it wouldn't start. We were pretty sure it wasn't the battery as we hadn't left anything running, it hadn't been that long, and it wasn't even making the noise to try to turn the engine over. Obviously there was no phone signal, because why would there be?

Luckily I'd bought a fresh fruit ice cream, and so the lady was kind enough to let us use the landline phone from the shop, and use their Wi-Fi after they left (it was 5pm, hometime). We called the rental company, who told us that if it was the battery, that would be deemed our fault, and we would have to pay for a mechanic. We told them we were 99% sure it wasn't the battery, but they sounded doubtful. After all, we were just two clueless girls who knew nothing about cars.

The breakdown

The breakdown

While we waited for the breakdown company, the family in the house next door arrived home and obviously saw us and our giant van. The man looked at the van and said he could try to fix it. We had to politely tell him thanks, but no thanks. As if he did manage to fix it then we would definitely be charged for the callout. So instead we chatted to his daughter for a while.

An old-ish couple soon turned up in a ute, dressed in their going-out clothes. We were surprised when they told us they were the breakdown people. They said they were on their way to a BBQ when they were told we just needed a jumpstart for a dead battery.

Hmmph. I knew they didn't believe us on the phone.

They very quickly assessed that it was not in fact the battery. Oh. It was the starter motor. And they didn't have any tools with them so they couldn't fix it. Oh. So the two clueless girls were right after all. [middle finger emoji]

After acquiring all the men from the house, they managed to do a temporary fix and give us a rolling start. We were under strict instruction to drive straight to a campsite and not stop, or we would not be able to start again. We panic-drove the whole way, stressed that we would accidentally stall the van or something.

The mechanic came to us the next morning, and said he'd have to get a part in from Christchurch. This meant we ended up spending nearly three days in a tiny town called Fairlie, known only for its pies. We ate a lot of pies.

Finally we could pick up the van and make our way to Timaru. Not quite Timbuktu but probably not a whole lot different. We saw loooads of seals but sadly no penguins. From here we started back down the east coast. A weird route because I had a gig in Dunedin 4 days before the van was due back, which was not enough time to do all the middle bits.

The wonderful trout observatory

The wonderful trout observatory

Oamaru was slightly more exciting than Timaru. We went to a steampunk museum and a beach full of underwhelming boulders. The weather was lovely the first morning we were in Dunedin. We had camped in a pub car park so were quite keen to get out of there, and had breakfast at a slightly more scenic car park instead. We walked down to Tunnel Beach where we watched a seal sunbathing, and then I somehow got caught by a sudden tide and ended up with soggy shoes and socks.

The walk back up was more of a struggle. It was a hot morning, and we'd obviously not showered in the pub car park. By the time we reached the top we were sweaty. It was decided that we should go to a local swimming pool so we could cool down and have a wash. Dreamy.

Once clean, we drove to the free campsite/car park in town so we could explore the city for the afternoon, before my gig. What we did not consider though, was that other people would also be attending this gig. Other people who were also in campervans. We waited in a queue of vans for people to leave the car park so we could take their spot. I think we were fourth in the queue and it took us about 1.5-2hr. The absolute relief when we finally got one. I have no idea how long some others waited, as there were at least 10 vans behind us.

We did not have a huge amount of time to explore, so instead went to a brewery. The sun was shining and there was a live band. I repeat, day for it. Soon, we said farewell and I headed off to my first ever solo gig. Red Hot Chili Peppers and Post Malone. I'd bought the ticket spontaneously when I was back in the UK. And here I was, six months later. I met a nice gal who snuck me into the queue so I didn't have to wait hours. Kiwis are nice. Then I emptied my bladder and pondered one of life's biggest questions: do I buy more drinks to loosen up, at the risk of needing the toilet, or do I drink nothing and stand awkwardly the whole night on my own?

I went for option A. I lasted all through Post Malone and 85% of the Chilis before the situation became desperate enough for me to squeeze out through the crowd. I stood in the stands for the encore which was actually cool for a different perspective.

The rain came the next day. We went to the world's steepest street, but then back up to Oamaru, where I'm pretty sure we spent most of the day in a pub escaping the rain and eating chips. From there we powered through to Akaroa, a cute little beach town that's supposedly very French, but I barely noticed that. The weather wasn't amazing but the scenery on the drive was great.

Morning views

Morning views

Somehow we made it to our last day of the road trip :( We went to Lyttleton and Sumner Beach as the weather had improved. I had my last ice cream of the trip. And then we drove to a car park by the port to pack our bags and sleep in the van for the last time.

The same guy with terrible customer service was there when we went to return the van, so that wasn't a fun experience, but by this point we'd already sent our lengthy complaint and been promised some money back. .

Time to go home

Time to go home

It was an emotional farewell at the airport, as I headed for the domestic departures, and Catherine to the international, where she ended up waiting a looooong time due to flight delays.

At this point, Auckland was under a state of emergency due to flooding, so I was a little nervous to be flying back there. You could see some impact of the floods from the air. I was surprised to see my car still on the road in front of our house when I finally returned.

I had some mail waiting for me too. Keep in mind it was now 30th Jan, and my birthday was 8th Dec. I received a birthday card from my parents, which they had spent all that money on sending, but had forgotten to actually write in. Plus a couple of Christmas decorations, in time for Valentine's I guess? Do I blame the postal service or my parents for these delays? I'll let you decide.

Posted by EMCAT 07:32 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Van Life with my Van Wife

The month of Jan, it all began with a van and no plan

OK that's a lie we had some kind of plan. A plan to pick up the van on a certain date, drop it off on another, and travel in a general anti-clockwise direction around the island. We had done some research and even had an ongoing shared spreadsheet to add ideas and dates. Damn if that ain't super organisation!

Our first glamourous night in the van

Our first glamourous night in the van

We landed in Christchurch and had dinner with Catherine's old colleagues from London, also a chance for her to meet their adorable baby for the first time, which she absolutely loved. We stayed the night in a hostel and the next morning wandered around the town for a bit, struggled to find H&M (it's not where google maps or their website says it is), and then went to an indoor market, where we also met my housemate, whose local knowledge proved insightful, as she guided us to H&M, as well as a stroll down the river. I had an apple crumble tart followed by a Ben and Jerry's ice cream. Breakfast of champions if I do say so myself. If you hadn't noticed, ice cream is a recurrent theme in my travels, and indeed, my life. Another future highlight of our trip was this fancy salad dressing we bought there. $18 well spent as it made us eat salad for the next few weeks, and tasted amazing.

In the early afternoon we headed to the rental place to pick up the van. The guy behind the desk was about as useful as an inflatable dartboard. When one of the first words he said to me was "unfortunately", my heart probably fell to the floor... Turns out our booking hadn't transferred onto their new system, so he had to manually create a new one, and he decided that was our fault. Our run through of the van was similarly vague, with highlights including "this is the bed", "under there is other stuff", "there's the cooker". We weren't best impressed but we eventually got on the road after around two hours...

One of the few things we did have booked was the dolphin experience in Kaikoura, as I'd looked a few weeks earlier and found there weren't many spots left. Catherine was the brave first driver, and our van journey began.

The van had an extended roof, and it was both of our first times driving something this big. The strong winds on that first day did freak us out a bit, as it felt like we were getting blown all over the road. This meant opening the windows was a big no, which, combined with the lack of air con, meant for a hot few weeks ahead.

Dolphins!

Dolphins!

We made it safely to Kaikoura, credit to Catherine's sick driving skills. Broom broom. The free campsite (a car park) in the centre was full, but we made use of the toilets then found another free campsite further up the hill. There were no toilets, but it was a cute spot for our first night, right opposite a cemetery too. Made a dart to the only open shop, and had a dinner of Doritos. You may be thinking, poor planning there gals, but we weren't expecting to spend 2hr picking up the van!

We slept surprisingly well. I was awoken by a loud siren, and was instantly fearful of an impending tsunami. Cue several google searches and spying on all our campsite neighbours. Nobody else seemed to be running around in a panic, and Catherine decided she'd rather sleep through it anyway. It later turned out to be the volunteer fire brigade siren, but I am certain that I am not the only backpacker to have had this fear in NZ.

Pancake Rocks and pancakes rock

Pancake Rocks and pancakes rock

Once we were fully awake and sure there was no tsunami, we drove down to the local toilets for a wash (day 2 and we're already beginning to sound a bit hobo-ish), and then onto the dolphin place. We were told that the swell was very high that day and that there's a high chance of seasickness, so only confident swimmers should go on the boat. The overthinker in me was panicking slightly, but the frugal part of me knew I had paid for it and was going. We got changed into some thick wetsuits, complete with booties and a hood, then had to sit in a room like that, surrounded by strangers, watching a safety video.

Once we got out there though it was truly amazing. Basically we were on a boat, and those of us that were swimming would sit at the back, and they'd drive around til they spotted a group of dolphins nearby. A foghorn would go and then we'd slip into the water quietly, and wait for the dolphins to come to us. I wasn't really sure what to expect but boy did they come to us! They suggested lying face down in the water, spinning around and making noises through your snorkel to attract the dolphins. They arrived en masse and swam around us. We'd swim with them for maybe 10 minutes at a time (no touching though), and then the foghorn would go again and it's back to the boat. They'd then move to another spot before doing the same.

They would swim in circles with you, leap out of the water, splash around. It was very cool, especially as they were all in the wild and were not baited or tagged, so you knew they wanted to be there. I'm not used to anyone voluntarily hanging out with me! The photos and videos don't really do it justice, but honestly it was such a cool and special experience. We kinda felt like we peaked very early on the trip! As soon as we left the changing rooms, we found out the rest of the day's trips had been cancelled due to the rough seas, so we really did time it well.

Hokitika Gorge

Hokitika Gorge

The charger we were given with the van did not work, so we tried to find a café with a plug to charge our phones. After shorting a circuit in one cafe, we sensibly headed to the public library instead, where we made use of the public computers to do some research on the Abel Tasman. We thought we'd found a great campsite, only to ring them and be asked "have you seen the weather forecast?!" Due to the incoming storms, they strongly recommended avoiding the whole area for safety reasons. We decided we'd wait a couple nights to see if it improved.

It didn't. We had a rainy couple of days in Blenheim and Nelson. We made the difficult decision to skip the Abel Tasman. While in Nelson though, we did attend the campsite quiz. Our effort was incredibly poor, but we did win an umbrella for the best team name (None of Your Quizness). We also learned of our leaky roof. That was fun. Another thing to add to the growing complaint email...

Hokitika views

Hokitika views

After a short but wet hike to the centre of New Zealand, the drive to Punakaiki was pretty horrible. The rain was disgusting and the visibility was poor. Combine that with driving in a big vehicle on windy roads and it was definitely an experience! I was getting more and more paranoid about the petrol, and if we'd have enough to get there. However Catherine was asleep and I also didn't want to wake her. The anxiety built up and the fear of breaking down won over the fear of angering the nap queen, so eventually I woke her up to ask her to look up the nearest petrol station. We were in the middle of nowhere, so there was nothing around, including phone signal...

We were running out of time to make the decision to turn off to a town or continue the country roads to our destination. Perhaps just trying to reassure me, Catherine thought we'd be fine, so I stayed on track. 2 minutes later, we see a sign saying "no fuel for next 100km" hahahaha...
At the next point I physically could (also difficult), I turned us around. The petrol gauge in the van was so unreliable. It would swing up and down as we were driving, so we never really knew how much we had. Better to be safe than sorry.

We found a great freedom campsite right by the beach in Punakaiki. The sun had made an appearance, so we made our dinner, including a lovely salad, and ate it on the beach, then drove back down the road to use the public toilets. Lol. In the morning we saw the Pancake Rocks, which were pretty cool. And the price of pancakes in the adjacent café - not so cool. Walked out of there and had a bowl of cereal on the side of the road. Then it was off to Franz Josef, via Hokitika and Hokitika Gorge, where we did another small hike, but in great weather this time. We also saw a family taking their cat for a hike in a backpack. Odd.

Franz Josef was very cool and the campsite we stayed at was really nice. It was slightly rainforest-y, but you could see the snowy mountains in the background. It was pretty busy and also quite maze-like, so I do remember creating a bit of a scene trying to get the van in the right spot. We went to a nearby pub and I spent absolutely ages trying to get the right shot for the gram with my pint glass and the mountain in the background. Being an influencer is a hard life, but someone's got to do it.

Your rich friends from school

Your rich friends from school

We had great weather while in Franz Josef, so we did some small-medium sized hikes, took some photos of the stunning scenery, did some laundry, oh yeah, and did a helicopter ride over the glacier. The views on the way up were amazing, and I think I had the best seat, as I got the front and side window. We flew over lush greenery and white, snow-capped mountains, then landed in the mountain tops for a snowball fight. It was Dad's birthday, so I made him a sign and sent a photo with the helicopter and background as a surprise. He barely even acknowledged the helicopter. Shock.

While it wasn't my first time in a helicopter, the views were markedly better than those of Surrey and Hampshire on a cold Tuesday night (yah I flew on a Chinook once cos I was an exceptional Air Cadet). Not to complain though. That was very cool too.

Stunning scenes

Stunning scenes

In the morning we queued up early for the petrol delivery (we weren't going to make the same mistake twice), and then we were on our way to Wanaka, via Haast for more petrol and lunch. We made a few scenic stops that day at some waterfalls and lakes, and even the views on the road were incredible. Surrounded by mountains, blue lakes and clear blue skies, it reminded me a lot of Italy.

#ThatWanakaTree

#ThatWanakaTree

Our home for the night was in Albert Town, at a campsite right on the river. While we had plans to get groceries and go paddle boarding, we ended up just sat in the river for quite a long time. The sun was out out and we were loving it. Then we sat in our camping chairs like a couple of retirees just enjoying the view (and a few drinks). Stunning.

We hung out with our campsite neighbours too. A couple of them asked if we wanted to join them at sunrise to go to Lake Wanaka. Being lovers of sleep, we said we would try but no guarantees, and not to wait up for us. Well, guess who actually got up? Us. And who didn't? Them. We drove down to the lake to join the other influencers and take a million photos of #ThatWanakaTree. It was weirdly quiet and everyone was taking themselves very seriously. And then there was us.

After coming back and having an accidentally long nap, we continued our influencer day at a lavender farm. Catherine got changed into her white dress for the occasion, while I was dressed as the Instagram boyfriend. Like I said, the life of an influencer is a tough one.

After a pancake breakfast, we said goodbye to one of our favourite campsites, and began the rainy drive through Cardrona to Arrowtown, where Catherine's above-mentioned friends Hannah and Andrew super-kindly let us stay with them for a couple of days. An actual bed, in an actual house was pretty damn lovely at this point in the trip. We also got to spend more time with super-cute baby George. Probably Catherine's highlight of the whole trip.

Arrowtown is very cute. We hit the pub, and the fudge shop, and with the help of Hannah and Andrew we re-planned the rest of our route to make better use of our time. We even used a real-life paper map.

On our day trip to Queenstown, we saw the singing dog and I queued an obscenely long time for an obscenely large ice cream.

What better way to start and end this blog post than with baby George and ice cream.

TLDR: here is the trip in Instagram reel form https://www.instagram.com/reel/CoPT6PqBzLALk2Mfxoerk06JxFy4nKAmhKY4640/?igshid=MmJiY2I4NDBkZg==

See you next time for expensive adrenaline adventures in Queenstown, and our tales of woe when the van broke down on us.

Posted by EMCAT 00:44 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Sandy Claus

A second Christmas on the beach on the other side of the world

Kia Ora dear readers. Has it been nearly 4 months already? Whoops. Somebody once told me to never change, so I took that to heart.
Actually I don't think anyone has ever told me that :(

The start of my new job (my old job but in a new country, if you remember) unfortunately came before the time of finding somewhere to live. So it was two weeks in Airbnb rooms before finally I found someone willing to let me live with them.

Apparently that wasn't even the hard part though. Trying to find a cheap-ish bed and mattress in a country where IKEA doesn't exist? And I don't have a car? On top of the fact that I am a well-known cheapskate... Challenge reluctantly accepted. I couldn't buy one in advance as I didn't know if or when I'd find a house, which meant it was a last minute affair, and I spent days going back and forth between various furniture websites. Finally I settled on a bed/mattress combo which would be delivered the day after I move in. I had a $10 airbed ready for my first night. What a relief, right?

Wrong. Despite taking the money from my account, they decided to cancel my order the day before I was due to move in. *Insert upside-down smiley face.*

Women's World Cup Final

Women's World Cup Final

In the end I straight-up bid the buy now price for a bed and mattress on TradeMe (like eBay). I didn't have the time, energy or patience to risk a bidding war. A lovely old man delivered it, and even brought his drill so he could come and assemble it for me. First week in the new house and I already brought a guy up to my room, score! ;) ;) It is the hardest mattress known to man but you know, I'm getting old so maybe it'll be good for my back.

Anyway, now with a roof over my head and a bed to rest it on, I could get on with my life. In November I went to the Women's Rugby World Cup semi-finals, which England won, and the final, which England lost. It was a close match against New Zealand, at a sold out stadium, so the atmosphere was great nonetheless.

Around the same time, I started to look for a car. I needed to get to the Coromandel for Christmas, and the rental prices were insane, so it was actually cheaper to buy one. But just like the bed story, I had a fast-approaching deadline. After a few weeks seemingly touring all of Auckland's suburbs, and spending my life on facebook marketplace and/or a bus, it was on my birthday that I eventually got one. The only gift I got on the day, and it was from myself. Dear Lord what a sad little life, Emma. Catch me rolling around Auckland in my second-hand granny car, beep beep.

First "big" road trip was to the Waitakeres, a regional park less than an hour from Auckland. Went for a mini-hike on a hot day, and slipped over twice in the space of 30 seconds, much to the amusement of Jordan and Charlotte, who absolutely have never brought it up since then!

Catherine arrived in New Zealand the next day. We met in Australia in 2019 and both had to deport ourselves back to the UK during Covid. She's living in Sydney again, so came over here for Christmas and a big ol' campervan road trip (coming soon to a blog near you).

Home

Home

Almost immediately, she stole my car and went for a joyride round the North Island while I was still at work. I still think she's done more miles in that car than I have. When I was finally free from my job on 23rd December, we headed for an outdoor cinema. Classic Christmastime activity, watching Home Alone in the park in the middle of summer. The film started fine, but after a minute or so the sound cut out, so they restarted it. Then the same happened again. Then again. The third of fourth time round they just left it running with no sound.

Unlike most festive films, there was no happy ending or Christmas miracle. It was shut down after about 20 minutes, due to "technical difficulties we haven't been able to fix".

On Christmas Eve, we stocked up on festive food and made the drive up to Tapu in the Coromandel to join the gang. The Airbnb was definitely unique... Set in the hills, we had a caravan, a hippie bus and a gypsy wagon to sleep in. Plus an open air-ish kitchen and a single bathroom complete with a compost toilet. That was a lot of fun for the eight of us!

Christmas Eve activities included a swim in the river, and making pizzas in the outdoor pizza oven. My Italian roots came through, I was a natural with the paddle!

We slept super well in the surprisingly cosy little gypsy wagon. I haven't actually watched peaky blinders but I'm sure there are some comparisons to be made between me and Tommy Shelby.

After bucks fizz and pancakes, it was onto a second ever Christmas Day for me spent at the beach. It will never feel normal. I plan to spend Christmas 2023 at home in the cold, where I belong. Drank some cold ones, went for a swim, got sunburnt... You know, all the classic Christmassy things.

Dads at Christmas

Dads at Christmas

Donned in my new Christmas t-shirt, a pair of shorts and some flip-flops (plus a Santa hat, obviously), I somehow became the new dad of the group and was tasked with looking after the fire for cooking our Christmas dinner. I took my duties very seriously, with a drink in one hand and a fire-poking stick in the other.

No roast dinner in site, but the BBQ was, I would say a success. Albeit sometimes a bit of a slow one.

Boxing Day had yet more beaches. We braved the 26km of mainly gravel road, and for the most part tried to ignore the weird noises from our cars... The cars, and passengers, did make it to Hahei, where we got the park and ride to Cathedral Cove. I had been here before, but it was another beautiful day with stunning views, so I absolutely did not mind. Being more of a peak time, the beach was a lot busier than my previous visit, but still plenty of room for us, and plenty of time for more photoshoots.

We spent longer than planned frolicking on the beach, before starting the long ascent back to the top. There are some bays on the way up, but I think because I needed the toilet I didn't join some of the others in that detour. That turned out to be a bit of a blessing in disguise. Josie and I reached the top, and after I went to the loo, I suddenly remembered seeing a sign that said the last shuttle back to the car park was at 6pm. It was about 6:15pm at this point. Ah fuck.

Cathedral Cove views

Cathedral Cove views

That then triggered Josie to remember that the car park shut at 7pm. It was about a half hour walk to the car park, so we thought we'd go rescue the cars and wait for the others. However, it was at that point I realised... Catherine, on a beach what seemed like miles below, had my car keys in her bag. Oh double fuck. We frantically messaged the group with our conundrum, and luckily she looked at her phone and was not in the middle of the ocean.

Josie and I stress-walked to the car park, planning out all the worst-case scenarios along the way. Would we have to camp in the carpark? Scavenge for food? Walk miles for a room?

Meanwhile, Catherine was stress-running up the track from the beach.

Thankfully due to heroic efforts all round, we saved both cars from being locked up, and found time for a well-deserved ice cream while we waited for the rest of the group. After that stress, we elected to take the longer, but non-gravel road home. For the sake of our hearts and our cars.

While Catherine and I were only there for 3 nights, most of the others had been staying in the Airbnb with awful wifi and a compost toilet for nearly a week, so I think they were definitely ready to say goodbye. I would not miss the possums in the kitchen, and the limited bathroom facilities... Three nights was pretty perfect for us, but it was still an emotional goodbye the next morning.

Cathedral Cove Gang

Cathedral Cove Gang

After a day at home of napping and laundry, and finally whipping out a cheeseboard, I was back to work 28-30th Dec, so off Catherine went again on another little solo voyage. For new years, we knew we didn't want to do anything big and/or expensive, so along with my friend Jordan we stayed home and got quiiiite drunk, then headed to Mission Bay to get a good spot for the fireworks 'spectacular'. Spectacular it was not. I wasn't expecting London or Sydney levels of a fireworks display, but considering they make a thing out of being the first major city in the world to welcome in the new year... daaamn this was truly, overwhelmingly underwhelming. The official display was a few, what looked like sparklers, shooting out from the sky tower. It was laughably bad. So we continued to drink, take terrible selfies and roll down the hill like children. Everyone else had disappeared by 12:15 anyway.

I'm sure you can imagine how New Year's Day went. Mostly napping, eating, and packing for our South Island campervan adventure, to begin the next day. And to be read about in my next blog...

Posted by EMCAT 09:53 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

A Right Good Kiwi Experience

A week with a bus full of strangers, exploring the North Island

Kia Ora. Hope you all had a good Christmas.

In early October my Kiwi Experience tour of the North Island began. I had booked a hop-on, hop-off tour with them for 2020, but thanks to a little thing called Covid, that never happened, and I also lost my money on it as the company I booked it through went bust. Happy days. I was hoping for a bit more luck this time.

Cathedral Cove aka entrance to Narnia

Cathedral Cove aka entrance to Narnia

I won't lie, the early vibes they gave off were disorganised and a bit chaotic. The incredibly basic "itinerary" we were given said to meet at a particular hostel in Auckland, which when you googled, said it had been permanently closed for a while. A few emails later and I was advised they had opened up a new location (so new that there was no record of it on the internet). We were told we'd be sent more details a week before the tour, but when that didn't happen, there was a small part of me that worried I was being mugged off. Ok maybe not that small.

I got to the new location after the given time, and was told the rooms weren't ready yet. Good start right, but at least the place existed and they knew of our existence so my anxiety over that decreased at least. When I came back I met a few other people from the group, and it seemed like we were all pretty clueless about any details. I was given a room key, and was expecting to open my door to a hostel room full of bunkbeds, but instead what I found was a brand new hotel room, complete with a slightly shocked roommate... As the dorms weren't yet ready we were upgraded to these fancy twin rooms, complete with a TV and an en-suite! We were the first (or possibly second) group to ever stay there. Ok I'll take that.

That evening I had a few house viewings to fit in, so I was worried I would miss out on some big first-night group meeting or socialisation, but it seems nothing was planned which was a bit odd. Even at breakfast in the morning there was no real tour introduction or briefing. Maybe a bit naively I thought the "small group tour" would be around 15 people, all doing just the North Island like me. However I quickly realised that was not the case. There were 24 of us, and most people were doing both islands, meaning I'd be leaving the group halfway through.

As much as we all hate that group introduction cliche of "tell us your name and an interesting fact about yourself", I thought it was a bit odd that there was nothing like that, and we had to do our own networking. In such a big group that was not my comfort zone! Everyone seemed really nice though.

Late night at Hot Water Beach

Late night at Hot Water Beach

Our first stop (besides the supermarket to stock up on snacks and booze) was Cathedral Cove, which is a stunning sandy beach on the Coromandel Peninsula. It's a bit of a walk down from the car park, but it's so worth it for the views. It was a beautiful day and the beach was mostly empty except for us, so it was a great chance for swimming and loads of photos.

The walk back up was admittedly a bit more of a struggle, but we all made it. We headed to Hot Water Beach Holiday Park, where we had cute little cabin dorms and a decking area where we enjoyed the fruits of our earlier alcohol shop. Hannah and I opted to cook our own banging dinner, and we were only a tiny bit jealous when everyone else appeared with their fish and chips.

For Hot Water Beach, you have to go at low tide to be able to dig your hole in the sand. As we'd missed the morning tide, that meant we headed to the beach at around 10pm, torches, spades and beanies at the ready. It was definitely chilly, but once you get down beneath the sand, the water is, in some places even boiling hot. Such a weird but cool experience. You can create your own hot pool due to the hot springs underneath the beach. The digging is quite hard work though, and the temperatures can vary massively. You can have one lovely warm foot and the other is scalding hot. Some of us stayed pretty late before braving the freezing cold dash back to our towels, and the chilly walk back the the campsite. A swimsuit and a beanie hat is certainly a look.

The next day we stopped at Karangahape Gorge on the way to Waitomo, where a lot of us went black water rafting. After donning our sexy thick wetsuits, helmets and wellies, we practised jumping into the water backwards on our little rubber rings, and forming a human chain, before heading down into the caves. I didn't really know what to expect, but wading through underground caves, jumping down waterfalls and floating down a river is actually a lot of fun, plus we saw more glowworms which was awesome.

Welcome to my House in the Shire

Welcome to my House in the Shire

Next up on the tour was Hobbiton. The ultimate New Zealand tourist destination. Can you really say you've been if you haven't got a photo outside a hobbit hole? The former film set is massive, set amongst the beautiful rolling hills of the countryside. Although it is pretty expensive, it is a great little tour, and even those in the group who had never seen the films (IKR?!) enjoyed it.

From Hobbiton we made our way to Tamaki Māori Village in Rotorua. For me this was such a pleasant surprise. I was expecting it to be a bit gimmicky and cultural appropriate-y, but the whole time we spent there was amazing. We learnt so much about the Māori culture, and the Chief and his family were so friendly and welcoming. The hāngī feast was incredible (the food just kept on coming), and even sharing a sleeping house with the rest of the group was not as bad as we thought it would be.

Couldn't go to Rotorua and not smell the smells of the sulphur. Te Puia geothermal park was full of geysers and mudpools, a bit of a throwback to my time in Iceland. We also saw some kiwi birds in the conservation centre. They look so cuddly!

Onto Taupō, where we visited the crystal-blue Huka Falls, and walked along the river to the Spa Thermal Park. We were told we might have time to go bungy jumping on the way to Tongariro, so a few of us considered it as we wouldn't be going to Queenstown with the group, where there's an even bigger bungy jump. We stopped at the bungy place hoping to watch someone else before we made up our minds, but there were only people doing the swing.

If you look closely you'll see Spider-Man

If you look closely you'll see Spider-Man

I signed up, did a nervous poo then got into my harness and waited on the platform. This is when everything my mum's ever said about bungy jumping went through my mind. I decided to attach the cord to my waist rather than my legs, to at least avoid her broken ankle scenario. Out of our group I was the first one to go. They attached the rope and then left me sat there for a couple of minutes. I remember some heavy techno music playing and saying to them, "this is not very relaxing". Their response - "it's not supposed to be". Also I did not realise I was on camera as I was merrily head bopping away to said music. I found that out later when I got my video.

When I went skydiving in Australia, the scariest part was being sat on the edge of the plane. But that was over so quickly and the instructor would make the leap so you weren't in control. With bungy jumping you have to make yourself jump off the ledge. The office lady said to me, the longer you stand on the edge, the scarier it will get, so I really took that to heart and just jumped. The bungy guy told me to dive off head first, so I put my arms above my head like Tom Daley and then proceeded to just jump off feet first anyway lol. For the few seconds of falling, I looked like Spider-Man with my legs just flailing around.

It was 47m high. The falling part is over in a few seconds, although it does feel like much longer. Then comes the bungy part when you hit the bottom and suddenly bounce back up. The fun part for me was just swinging around and bouncing up and down. They pull you down into this boat and the guy there said I was way too chill. He asked me how it was and I just replied, "Yeah good, thanks." I watched Roshni's jump from below before our hike back up to the top to watch Hannah and Rhi. I'm glad I did it in a group rather than on my own.

The Kiwi Gang

The Kiwi Gang

Before we got to Tongariro National Park we found out that the guide said it was too dangerous to do the Crossing because of the weather conditions. I wasn't sure I was going to do it anyway as my fitness was not at its peak, shall we say, but it was a big shame for those that were as it's supposed to be a New Zealand highlight. After the drama of no breakfast at the hostel, we did do a shorter walk nearby, which was nice, although you couldn't see any of the mountain scenery due to the cloud and rain. Other than hiking and skiing during winter, there is not a lot to do around there, so we did spend a lot of time at the pub next to the hostel those two nights...

My last night on the tour was at River Valley Lodge, which was lovely. Although it was a bit rainy, to be able to finish white water rafting and head straight to a sauna and hot tub was very nice. The white water rafting was my highlight of the trip. A little scary at times when they would tell you how dangerous a set of rapids was, and what you would need to do if you fell in and couldn't reach the boat. But then we would get through the rapids really well. Go team! Unfortunately my camera decided it only had enough battery to take photos and not videos for most of it.

We had another great meal there, a bit emosh as some of us were leaving the group the next day. Although we splintered off to our separate hostels in Wellington, most of us met up again that evening for food and drinks of course. It was quite sad to say goodbye to everyone!

Wellington

Wellington

The few of us that were left in Wellington met up the next day to hit the sites. Te Papa Museum was very big, very interesting, (and very free). We also rode the cablecar and did a tour of the Parliament building which was cool. Did not spot Jacinda for my fangirl moment though. Other than an absolutely horrendous snorer in my hostel room both nights, like, actually horrendous, he forced a guy to sleep in the corridor, Wellington was pretty cool, and I realised I liked it more than Auckland. Just a shame I was about to start a job there for 6 months...

Before I could embark upon my overnight bus back to lovely Auckland though, we did climb Mt Victoria. The bus ride would not have been my first choice, but I had one day left before starting my new job, the flights were expensive and the trains only run 3 days a week. So bus it was. 11 hours, arriving in Auckland at 6am before even Denny's Diner was open. An unforgettable journey, you could say.

After 2 nights of no sleep due to sharing a room with a drunk rhino, and then a night on a bus, I had one night in an actual bed in an actual house before starting my job on the Monday. I was absolutely (not) buzzing and raring to go!

Posted by EMCAT 19:27 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

The In-Between Ers

Just a lil filler before the real big North Island adventure

This is just a mini-post to keep the fans (my mum) happy while I make progress on the next one. A picture is worth a thousand words, so I'll make up for it that way.

Haka

Haka

After I finished my little solo van tour, I had two weeks to fill before starting my Kiwi Experience bus tour. A lot of this was spent hostel-hopping around Auckland, as it seemed everywhere was booked up.

I was lucky enough (and by that I mean I spent two days refreshing the Ticketmaster website) to catch a last-minute ticket to see the All Blacks vs Australia at a sold-out Eden Park, and the rain mostly held off too. All Blacks smashed the Aussies of course, and how many people can say they've seen the actual All Blacks Haka on their home turf.

The following day I decided to check out where my new Siemens New Zealand office would be, and explore the area. What's that? Why yes I did decide to come all the way to the other side of the world to take the exact same job as I had at home. Plus it is a six month contract in the city that everyone said to get out of as quick as possible. However it does pay better and it's not in Camberley sooo... My main fear was actually turning down this job and then struggling to find one later on when I was more desperate. Finding a job in Australia was a struggle and a half and I did not want a repeat of that.

One Tree Hill sunset

One Tree Hill sunset

I visited the nearby Cornwall Park, and joined the hoards of sheep just roaming about, then climbed One Tree Hill (just another volcano in the city, you know...) to catch the sunset. Classic me. Is it even a blog post from me without mention of a sunset?! Sadly, and shockingly, neither Nathan nor Lucas Scott were at the top to meet me.

I also had to try to find somewhere to live, which proved much trickier than expected. Turns out nobody in Auckland wanted me to live with them. I can cook and I don't take up much room, plus I have 10/10 banter of course, so really it's them who are missing out. That's what I tell myself as I cry myself to sleep in yet another hostel bed, anyway...

I seemed to spend my life bussing in and out of the CBD to look at rooms in houseshares, only to be told "it was great to meet you but we've decided to go with somebody else" over and over. Quite a competitive market with multiple people vying for each place super quickly. Maybe I should have tried to sell myself more, like a job interview: "I can cook but I won't go off like Gordon Ramsay", "I'm clean but not like some super neat-freak", "I'm social but not clingy", "I'm not too loud but not too quiet". Gotta get the balance right so you don't come off like a sociopath. That bit comes later, once you've moved in and your name's on the contract.

In between house visits I did fit in a little trip to Tauranga. The weather was quite tragic the day I got there but miraculously cleared up for a gloriously sunny climb up Mount Maunganui (yes, another volcano). Was quite hard work but the views (and the ice cream at the end) were definitely worth it. That night we went to a local bar for a cheap roast - although what they call a a roast here is quite insulting - and to watch the local men sing some karaoke ballads. What a time to be alive. The drinks were not cheap enough for any of us to join the men on stage for a duet.

Views from the top

Views from the top

Finally managed to open a bank account here too, and get a tax number and sort out all my job paperwork. Plus I had some copywriting work to finish, so yes I spent two days of my "working holiday" in the public library. They are very useful resources so we should save them all from closing, FYI.

All the gear and no idea

All the gear and no idea

My last night in Tauranga, I spent kayaking in the dark! That was pretty cool, if not a little eerie at times when you literally cannot see 1m in front of you and you're just paddling into darkness. The coolest part though was seeing the glow worms. If you've never seen them in person before they are pretty amazing. However also inCREDibly hard to take photos of with just a phone, especially when in a kayak that doesn't stay perfectly still. From looking at my pictures you might call them glow sperms.

Enjoyed(!!!) one more night in a hostel in Auckland before embarking upon the Kiwi Experience tour the next day. I promise (maybe) that the next blog will be more exciting and will not be such a long wait... It should include Hobbit holes and jumping off 45m high platforms...

Posted by EMCAT 03:26 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

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