Lets throw back just for the hell of it and because I’m daydreaming and reminiscing. I flew out to New Zealand a year ago today. It was a big trip for me, things weren’t going so dandy at home so I impulsively quit my job I’d been in for six years on the spot, booked a plane ticket the same day and flew out two weeks later. I’ve always been one for the dramatics..
I actually forced my company on my best friend who was already out there, and one of her friends that I’d never met before. They’d been working flat out for a year to save for their round the world trip, I had not. So lets also throw back to the happy time I had money in my savings account.. So worth it though.
I like to travel, but I’m really not a travel blogger. These are just little bits and bobs that I wish someone had told me about.
Meet our van Betty, she was the most fabulous lady I ever did meet. She’s old and battered with a few rusted holes here and there, I would describe her as well loved with lots of character. Betty was our home for the 5/6 weeks that we were out there. If you don’t know someone well, then you definitely get familiar with them quickly when you live in a van like this, sorry Abi, I promise I don’t expose my bare bum to any stranger after only knowing them a day or two..
I could not recommend this more. It’s not like Australia where you can catch a Greyhound bus everywhere. You can also commute at your own leisure, and there are so many random places to stop and explore.
There were three of us in total, we ended up renting from a company called “Get Lucky”, for 32 days we paid about £400 each for Betty, very cheap for such a laaarvely lady. The vans are old, but they’re well looked after and breakdown and insurance is included in the price. It’s also a lot cheaper to camp than to stay in a hostel too. especially if you’re running really low then you can do a bit of freedom camping where it’s legal and save your pennies!
**Side note, it seems so obvious but make sure that the fridge is turned on when you pick up the van, we stocked ours with a load of chicken and cheese (essentials for fajita night) and soon became aware of very strong smells. I thought it was my laundry, the girls thought one or the other had a dodgy stomach, we got through a lot of febreeze**
D’ya know what I wish someone had given me the heads up about? Sandflies. They are the Satans spawn, you cannot escape them. Layers? Pfft, not a problem, they can get through the all, day three without a shower, squeaky clean, covered in 100% deet, every kind of bug spray going, they love it. No challenge too big for them. I actually forgot what it was like to have ankles after I lost sight of them when they swelled up so much. And they’re not polite either, whenever we went for a cheeky nature wee it soon became apparent that it was their prime time to attack, my bum went all Kim K from the sheer amount of bites my derriere suffered.
While on that subject, take really warm socks. Pfft, obvious I know. But there were times I would wake up in the middle of the night able to see my breath. My socks and pants that I had washed and were drying looked like they had been intensively starched from the cold.
I took three cameras away with me, and about five memory cards. I used my GoPro Hero+ the most, mainly for the ease factor and I just filmed everything and then took stills from the app ‘Capture’. My GoPro is my pride and joy and has a good image quality so it was an all round bonus. I also think that videos are funnier than pictures, you get to take a bit more of the memory away with you and you don’t have to pay attention to what you’re doing as much so it’s a win win for me. You may think that three cameras is a bit excessive but the scenery is beyond breathtaking. You’ll understand it when you see it.
Oh no, there’s no wifi in the middle of this jaw dropping mountain range! Don’t be that person. I personally went to New Zealand to get away from things at home, but I would honestly suggest using the lack of phone reception and wifi to disconnect from the world for a bit, you feel a million times better, I also feel like sometimes people think travelling is more about proving a point rather than embracing your surroundings. You’re going to miss so much breathtaking scenery if you’re staring at your phone the whole time. You can pick up Wifi and phone reception easily in the towns and cities for when you need to touch base though.
I would definitely recommend researching where you want to go before you go out there. We made that error and wasted a bit of time with planning and aimless driving. I bought a map of the South Island and we would write on that what we wanted to do in certain areas. I’ve still got it as a keep sake that I’m going to frame, so it had a dual purpose, but it’s also a bit more fun to get around using a map rather than a sat nav. You notice a lot more, and the roads in New Zealand are minimal and empty so it’s pretty easy to navigate, even for the simpler map reader. Also, if you do get lost like we did then don’t be afraid to ask the locals. We spoke to so many lovely people who imparted their knowledge on to us, so we got to find out about the less touristy hikes and beaches too!
Pack ‘n Save and New World are a godsend and the cheapest places to do your food shop, especially if you’re eating on a budget. Eating out is pretty pricy, but on the plus side alcohol is about the same price as it is at home (you can 100% trust me to do thorough research when it comes to wine). It’s super cheap out there because it’s a wine country, so definitely make the most of that. And the cake! Oh, the cake! So much variety, we would just choose a different one everyday, it was magnificent.
If you are travelling in your own vehicle, I’d pick up a multipack of water, we were never without it, you get through it pretty quickly and it’s essential if you breakdown on the deserted roads as breakdown services might not reach you for a fair few hours. It will also help with the wine hangover..
Go for the eco campsites! You get your essentials, by which I mean water which is (usually) drinkable and more often than not, a drop toilet. Let me tell you, this is an experience in itself. (Warning, I’m an over sharer) I personally found the breeze that came up from below very refreshing, sadly the smell that joins it is usually one that hits you full on slap in the face and pushes you to the verge of passing out. So hold your breath. Sometimes the girls and I couldn’t bring ourselves to lock the door so one of us would just stand outside the door allowing you to make an incredibly swift exit upon completion. Also, super handy tip, make sure you don’t have your phone in your back pocket when you go (I had an almost moment), because I promise you now, you will not be swan diving down that hole to retrieve it.
HOWEVER, with the eco campsites you’re going to see some killer night skies as there aren’t any lights. I’m a sucker for a good sky, whether it’s a sunrise, sunset or the stars, but then, who isn’t? and you know what goes well with any kinda sky? Wine.
– Milford Sound- beyond breathtaking, you’ll fill an entire memory card, or two, just with this place, if you want to feel like you’re on the set of Jurassic Park then you would be a complete fool not to go here, a fool I tell you! I would totally recommend doing one of the waterfall cruises, and it is quite literally a waterfall cruise, you get absolutely drenched, I think it came to about £20 and you get a lunch included, so you definitely can’t complain. You can do longer cruises where you get to see dolphins (sometimes), but the one we did was about three hours. *fyi, sandflies are incredibly present here*.
– Abel Tasman- Again, absolutely beautiful. This is where we did freedom sea kayaking because it’s one of the most scenic coastlines in New Zealand. It did not disappoint. We paid about £40 each for an hours tutorial and then to take the kayaks out by ourselves for the whole day. There’s plenty of empty beaches to explore, seals you can go see. Be ready to not be able to move your arms afterwards for a few days though.
A cheeky bit of intel that I still don’t know whether I appreciated or not came from the instructor when the dreaded question of “what about sharks?” came up. Apparently they’re only really around in seal breeding season. It was seal breeding season. They only really hang around the really big rock where the seals like to chill. We ventured out to the really big rock where the seals like to chill. The jaws theme tune was playing pretty much the entire time we were out there.. and that was a long time.
– Queenstown- This is a no brainer and it’s where you’re going to get the most interaction with people. It’s a really good night out, but it is so, so pricy. If you’re going out, I would say get a crate of beer and do your drinking before you hit the pubs and clubs. Queenstown is also the activity central, it’s where you can skydive, bungee, jet ski, paddle board, horse ride, the works.
This is where I did the Nevis Bungee jump, the biggest in New Zealand. In my minds eye I did an incredibly graceful swan dive off the plank of death, but upon reviewing the footage it was more of an internal battle followed by an awkward jump which I would say sums me up perfectly.
– The Book Barn, Charleston– Okay, this is for all you fellow book nerds out there. The Book Barn isn’t very well known to people, but I really, really urge you to go there. It’s basically what it says. A massive barn filled with second hand books that you can pick up for about £1 each. There are holes in the ceiling, umbrellas nailed to book cases, buckets on book piles, just another quirky addition to New Zealand.
You can also trade your own books in for new ones, and there’s free tea, coffee, cake and sweets, so ya know, there’s something for everyone there and just everything for me. They have every book in every genre you could think if. Vintage magazines for about 5p. To cut it short, I had to ask someone to help me lift my bag when I picked it up at Heathrow.
New Zealand kind of reminds me of when I did Route 66, there’s a lot of derelict, abandoned homes and shops, the roads are deserted. So keep an eye out for the quirky stops, you’ll see them, just tiny little towns that look as lively and interesting as possible to attract as many people as possible. I picked up some really cool bits and bobs. There’s plenty of other places that I could go on about, but these are all fairly well advertised, and so are the things that I’ve mentioned above (except the Book Barn) so you’ll find them all easy enough. Keep an eye out for all the walks that are randomly signposted in the middle of nowhere, they can be as little as a 10 minute hike to take you to jaw dropping view points and waterfalls.
Anthems of the Post
The Scientist – Corinne Bailey Rae
To Build a Home – Cinematic Orchestra
Arrival of the Birds – Cinematic Orchestra
Transformation – Cinematic Orchestra