A blog about travel, books and navigating your twenties in one piece

Saturday, 26 January 2019

New Zealand 2019 Travel Diary // Lake Tekapo, Mount Cook, Lake Pukaki & Cromwell

After a lovely month of staying at my sister's I set off in the campervan with Liam a couple of weekends ago. We had four nights to fit in a few places before we needed to be in Dunedin for a housesitting job and today I thought I'd tell you about those few days.

As a quick sidenote, if you're thinking of travelling around New Zealand in a campervan or camping, I highly recommend breaking it up with housesitting jobs if you've got the time. We've only done the one so far but we've got another one lined up for late February. The 'job' is super easy. With our Dunedin one, we get to stay in a lovely house with an insane view of the beach, eat the food they left for us, and all we have to do is feed their animals so we can do whatever we want pretty much in the day in the local area. It's also given us a week in a proper bed and has been perfect because it's allowed us to plan out our next few months of travel - which I'm super excited about. You do have to get a working holiday visa to be able to do it because even though you don't get paid, any kind of benefit to you i.e. free accommodation/food counts as a form of payment under New Zealand immigration guidelines. But, to be honest, it pays for itself when you consider how much per night you'd be paying to stay in a proper house. Anyway, if you're interested the website we've been using to find jobs is Kiwi House Sitters and we've been really happy with it.

Anyway, back to our few days in the van...

LAKE TEKAPO :: We started by driving to Lake Tekapo and had two nights there. The weather in Christchurch had been rubbish when we'd left it so I was over the moon to find that the sun was out and beaming in Tekapo. For our first afternoon we went for a walk, doing the Mt John Summit Circuit Track which leads to *incredible* views of the lake - just look at the colour of that water ^. It's a ninety-minute walk round trip but when we were at the top we decided to take a different walk down which meant that it ended up being around a three hour walk. It was just beautiful and I'd really recommend it. On our second day the weather was a bit hit or miss so we decided to go to the Tekapo Hot Pools and they were really nice. Not anywhere near as good as the Hanmer Springs pools if you ask me, but still good. Especially since we went after Liam forced me to have a dip in the freezing lake with him and running straight to the thermal pools from that was the only thing that made going in the lake bearable! Apart from that on the second day we pretty much just relaxed and finished planning our next few days. Tekapo's an amazing place to visit and definitely worth stopping in.

MOUNT COOK :: After Tekapo we headed to Mount Cook for a night. Mount Cook is New Zealand's highest mountain and it's surrounded by the Tasman Glacier Lake. We did three walks in the area and it was really beautiful. The first two walks were super easy and quick - the Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier View walks - but had great views. The best walk though is undoubtedly the Hooker Valley Track. It's a three hour return walk and pretty easy and it's where I got that perfect insta shot after some convincing (thanks Liam). A top tip would be to do it either early in the morning or in the evening before sunset because it's super busy and the water looks incredible in the light when the sun is setting. I really enjoyed it and we were lucky with the weather for it as well.

LAKE PUKAKI AND TWIZEL :: The next day we stopped in Lake Pukaki and later a in town called Twizel. It was absolutely boiling that day but we managed some good walks (still so proud of myself for that). If I thought the water at Lake Tekapo was blue the water at Lake Pukaki was something else. It was just stunning and I still can't get over its colour. After a quick walk directly along the lake we did the Pukaki Kettle Hole Track which was a lovely walk giving us more amazing views of Lake Pukaki. We then had some lunch and headed to a town called Twizel and did their 9km 'Twizel Walkway' walk. It's quite a nice walk but didn't compare to the Hooker Valley Track from the day before. We had a great day though nonetheless!

BENDIGO AND CROMWELL :: On the day we were heading to this housesitting job we sort of had some time to kill with nothing that was abundantly clear to us to do. But after some good googling (again, thanks Liam) we found a couple of places which would pretty much be on our way to Dunedin anyway. The first was Bendigo which is on the Dunstan Mountains and is a bit of a ghost town - it used to be a mining town and there are lots of ruins from when it was in use but now no one at all lives there and it's an area of conservation. It's pretty cool to see and had some amazing views although, again it was boiling and I felt slightly like I was dying. After exploring that we headed to a little town called Cromwell and did one of my favourite activities: wine tasting. We stopped at Misha's Vineyard and for $10 each (about £5) you get to try five different wines each. The staff there were lovely and I couldn't get over how cheap it actually worked out. The wine was great (I can't pretend to know a lot about wines except for being able to comment on whether I like them or not) and I ended up drinking the majority of ten wine tastings because Liam was driving and so didn't want to have too much wine. Of course I left a little tipsy and proceeded to have a nap when we got back in the car to head to Dunedin... we definitely need to do a couple more before we leave New Zealand.

And since then we've been staying in Dunedin to do our housesitting job. When you're reading this we'll have left that and are heading to Te Anau, Milford Sounds, Queenstown, Wanaka and more, I'm so excited! I'm actually quite looking forward to getting back in the van. It's so perfect for the way we're travelling, the bed's comfy and the diet of rice and beans actually isn't all that bad. I hope you've enjoyed the first couple of these travel posts, I'll try to be back with more sooner rather than later but we'll see how that goes. I hope you all have a great weekend!

Sunday, 20 January 2019

New Zealand 2019 Travel Diary // Christchurch, Tai Tapu, Sumner Beach, Akaroa, Arthur's Pass & Hanmer Springs

So this is going to be the first of probably quite a long series of New Zealand travel diaries - if you ever go hopefully these will be helpful and if not maybe it will just be a bit interesting (I hope!) to see what I've been up to. I haven't written a travel diary on here in ages so I'm super excited to share this first instalment today.

As mentioned in my last post, during the few weeks I was staying with my sister in Darfield we did quite a few day trips to nearby places and they were my favourite days I spent there. Today I thought I'd share my experiences from those day trips and my favourite parts of them. We always had a five and three year old in tow so all of these examples are child-friendly and hence not too crazy but nonetheless lovely places to visit if you're in New Zealand.

CHRISTCHURCH :: Christchurch was the airport I flew into and is the closest city to my sister so we had quite a few days in and out of Christchurch. As I'm sure you'll have read if you've looked up Christchurch in any travel guide, it's changed massively since the hugely destructive earthquakes of 2011. In fact, it's still being rebuilt after the earthquakes and lots of New Zealanders have moved out of the city centre as a result. Because of that, I would really recommend going to the museum Quake City, if you have a chance. It's about £10 entry but it's a really great museum and worth seeing if you're at all interested in the earthquakes and how they affected this area. We also went to the Air Force Museum which is amazingly free entry and quite interesting (not quite my thing but worth a visit if it's at all of interest to you, especially since it's free!). Apart from that, we mainly did kiddie things in the city like taking my nieces to the incredible Margaret Mahy playground (seriously if you have kids, go, it's amazing and I wish I'd had a park like it near me when I was growing up). I would have loved to have had a walk around the botanic gardens as well as I've heard they're great but maybe I'll have time if we stay at my sister's for a few days before we leave New Zealand.

TAI TAPU :: There are some lovely little towns surrounding Darfield where my sister lives and so we often took their dogs for walks and saw a little bit of them. My favourite of these outings is (shockingly) food-related. If you're anywhere in the nearby area you *have* to stop in Tai Tapu and go to The Raspberry Cafe. Firstly it's just a lovely place for lunch - they have tables in their beautiful gardens so if you get a sunny day it's just perfect. It's also dog-friendly, has fresh berries you can buy from their shop and a playground area for children. But most importantly, their cakes are incredible. I'm honestly salivating just thinking about them. My sister took me there within my first week of staying at hers and when Liam arrived I had to take him too and honestly two visits still doesn't feel like enough. Their cakes are so delicious that I can't even begin to describe them but on my first visit I had a chocolate and raspberry cake and on my second I had raspberry and white chocolate cheesecake and I'm still thinking about them now. The staff are lovely, it's a great location, just go if you can.

SUMNER BEACH :: Ok so moving away from cake before I write 1,000 words on it (which believe me I could do), there are lots of lovely beaches around Christchurch. The first one I went to was Sumner, on my sister's recommendation. The weather was beautiful and Sumner is a really stunning beach with great rock pools and coves to look in as well as swimming in the sea. There is also a real fruit ice cream stand which was delicious and Sumner pretty much has everything to offer that you'd want for a great beach day. We had a lovely day there.

AKAROA :: Akaroa completely stole my heart. So much so that again I went twice because I really wanted Liam to see it too. It's such a lovely little beach town and completely beautiful. The drive there from Darfield itself was stunning, especially going through a place called Duvauchelle, which gave us the most amazing views of mountains and lakes and if you go you should definitely stop along the way at Barry's Bay for incredible cheese and wine (and they do free samples which is always a win). In Akaroa itself you can do boat trips, swimming with dolphins and wildlife activities but we didn't really have a chance when we went there. We both times just had a great time on the beach and had amazing weather so nothing to complain about at all! If you're there for lunch I really recommend a little van which you can find towards the end of the pier which sells freshly grilled fish and chips called Murphy's Seafoods. Liam was disappointed because it wasn't your classic battered fish and chips but I personally love grilled fish and so it really hit the spot for me and was nice and inexpensive!

 ARTHUR'S PASS & CASTLE HILL :: As you do on Boxing Day, we were desperately wanting a walk to counteract the amount of food we had eaten on Christmas Day. This year, however, I did more of a Boxing Day climb rather than a walk. First we went to Castle Hill which is a 700m hill with loads of limestone rocks decorating it. It was a bit grey but the weather soon turned itself around and we had a great time climbing it with my nieces. We'd packed a picnic, ate it at the top and admired the really great view. It was just what the doctor ordered and not too difficult, but definitely not a walk in the park either. Afterwards we headed to Arthur's Pass National Park where there are quite a few walks varying in length. Because we had the two girls in tow (at least that's my excuse) we just did the Devil's Punchbowl track up to the waterfall which is a very manageable, lovely walk. It's a really nice area and definitely worth a visit if you ask me.

HANMER SPRINGS :: Finally, the weekend before Liam arrived we went away for a night to Hanmer. It's a really lovely little town which apparently only has a population of 900 people who live there year-round which I couldn't believe coming from London and all. We went for a walk in the lovely forest to stay cool (it was 30 degrees all weekend which was amazing but a bit of a killer trying to stop my nieces getting sunburnt) and stopped at Si Gelato which did amazing ice cream. The highlight of the weekend though was of course going to the thermal hot pools. I didn't really get any pictures in there because we were surrounded by pools and, knowing me, I'd have dropped my phone or camera in one of them but it's well worth a visit if you're anything like me and love sitting in hot pools. Most of the pools are natural thermal ones with minerals which is pretty cool and it was great to spend the day sunbathing and going from pool to pool as we felt like it. I'd quite like to take Liam there before we leave New Zealand so hopefully I'll be back at some point to try them again. We stayed in a motel called Forest Peak which was perfect for the four of us, had a great DVD selection and was pretty reasonable on price!

So those were the highlights from my first few weeks in New Zealand. Once Liam and I set off in the van we did a lot more walking than I managed with my sister and nieces and covered a lot more ground in a short space of time. I'll be back to write about my favourite places we've been to so far in a few days. I hope you enjoyed reading through my first travel diary entry from this trip!

Friday, 18 January 2019

Happy 2019! || Thoughts on My First Month in New Zealand

Lake Tekapo at sunset
Happy New Year everyone! Slightly belated, I know, but the past month since I came to New Zealand has been pretty non-stop and this is the first chance I've had to sit down and write about it. I hope you all had a great New Year's Eve though and that 2019 will be good to you.

First things first, how are we already over midway through January of 2019?! (It wouldn't be one of my new year posts if I didn't comment on how quickly time is going.) That's sped by far too quickly for my liking but perhaps that's because nearly every day has been full to the brim for me.

My first month in New Zealand has been amazing. I spent four weeks at my sister's in Darfield (about forty minutes outside of Christchurch city centre) and had the most wonderful time. As I've mentioned before, my sister has lived in New Zealand for nearly ten years and I've been desperate to get out here since she moved. And I'm finally here!! Since she's been here she's been busy marrying my brother-in-law who's a Kiwi and having my adorable two nieces who are five and three years old.

Finally having the chance to spend some proper time with them was honestly a dream from start to finish. I did a load of babysitting which was great fun and on my sister's days off from work we did day trips (which I'm going to write about hopefully over the next few days) to some really amazing places. It was just a perfect way to start my trip because I can't tell you how comforting it was to get off of my flight, which all in all had taken around thirty hours, and have my sister and a bed in her lovely house waiting for me so that I could fully recharge my batteries and not head straight to a hostel. It was a definite luxury and something that I'm super grateful for.

Also I have to quickly talk about Christmas here. Like everyone said it would it felt a little wrong. We had such a lovely Christmas, especially with the girls being so young and being desperately excited when Father Christmas paid them a visit, but sitting around the table in a vest on Christmas day is just not right when you're used to wearing approximately ten layers to keep warm typically. We had a lovely roast ham and some whitebait fish that my brother-in-law's aunty had made for lunch (apparently it's a big deal out here and I did like it) - an odd combination but it worked. So I've now had my first hot Christmas, something I think everyone should experience at least once in their life!

Anyway, towards the end of my stay at my sister's Liam came to meet me with the campervan that we've been using since we left for our travels (and that he'd been using beforehand when travelling around with one of his friends). It has been so unbelievably lovely to be reunited with him and my nieces absolutely adored him. Since Liam and I left we've had four nights travelling around in the van (post to come on what we've done also in a few days) and are now staying just outside of Dunedin doing a housesitting job for a week. To be honest, it's absolute bliss to have a week to chill out in a lovely house when all we have to do is feed the family's animals while they're away. And with fresh eggs every day from their chickens, there's really nothing to complain about while we have this time to plan the next few months and gear up to hit the road again on the 25th.

So all in all my first month away has been incredible. I haven't really felt homesick - it probably helps that I was with family straight away once I got here - apart from the first morning when I was jet lagged and woke up thinking about just how far away I am from my home. But actually since I've got over the jet lag and my brain has been working properly again, I've not felt far away from home at all. I've been in touch with friends and family at home almost every day and I'm so lucky to have spent the past month with some of the best people I know. Travelling (so far) is amazing and I'm so excited for the next few months to come.
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