Category Archives: New Zealand

Australia & New Zealand Round-up and Budget

I have some mixed feelings on the 28 days I spent in Australia & New Zealand.

Obligatory Sydney Harbour shot

I might as well start with the positives. First off, it was really nice to catch up with quite a few friends I hadn’t seen since they left the UK – Chris in Auckland, Matt in Melbourne, Gen in Perth, and Chris, John & Ollie in Sydney, especially as it could be ages before I get to see them again. Getting to do the Tongariro Alpine crossing was a real highlight too, as it certainly lived up to its billing as one of the world’s best day hikes. I’m so glad too that my round the world ticket gave me the chance to see Uluru & the red centre, something I may not have bothered with otherwise, and was one of the real highlights of the trip so far. My stomach was also very pleased to get to catch up on so many of the English foods I’d been missing since I’ve been away (amazing as some of the foods I’ve had while away, I still can’t stop myself getting homesick for certain foods. Decent bacon, especially). Possibly best of all was getting to spend nearly two weeks with Matt in Melbourne, not doing all that much by the way of touristy stuff, instead just settling back into city life (and Melbourne is definitely one the best cities in the world) and recharging my batteries after doing so much over the past seven months.

Newtown, my favourite part of Sydney

But despite all the plus points, it did feel like a bit of a letdown after having such an incredible time in Latin America. The biggest factor in that was the fact that the two countries really are way too much like home in many respects. While that was comforting in some ways, one of the things I’ve loved most about my travels is experiencing a range of very different cultures, and to be honest, the antipodean culture was nowhere near as exciting. Another surprise was the other backpackers I met. In Latin America, I met so many amazing people, many of whom I hope to stay in contact with and see again when I get home. Whereas, especially, I really didn’t get on with any of the travellers I met in Oz. Maybe I was just unlucky, but I did find there to be something quite different about the type of people who have chosen to spend a year in a country like Australia (rather than Asia or Latin America) – they didn’t seem to be as adventurous, or open-minded, or interesting to talk to. Like I said, maybe I was unlucky and didn’t meet the right people, but it made me realise how much the company of great people makes to my enjoyment of a place. The final downside was one that I always knew was going to happen – the cost. As developed countries, they were always going to be expensive. With the pound being as week as it, it was even more so, and worse so than I’d feared. In just 1 month I managed a far bigger overspend than I’d managed in seven months in the Americas. Whoops. Oh well – let’s just hope I manage to claw some of that back in (much cheaper) Asia.

Here are those scary average daily spend numbers anyway – accommodation & food & drink costs are easily the highest yet (even moreso than my three days in the USA), and the others are all at the top end of what I’ve been spending so far.
Accommodation: $25.52
Transport: $13.18
Tours: $15.05
Miscellaneous purchases, internet & phone calls: $11.62
Food & drink: $41.54
Total: $106.92

And on to the usual round up of some other numbers. We have a new form of transport thanks to Melbourne’s trams (why on earth do all cities not have these? Trams rock)
Buses: 19
Trains: 18
Trams: 20
Flights: 5
Cars: 7
Beds: 10
Laundry: 5
Phone calls: 4
Postcards: 4
Beaches: 6
Monoliths: 1
Canyons: 1
Volcanoes: 1
Deserts: 1
Mudpools: several
Pies & bacon sarnies: I lost count quite early on with this one, to be honest

And finally the people I shared overpriced (and undersized) beers with. All the Aussies were great. Most of the hostel brits – not so much. I also got to meet my first people from Malaysia & Hong Kong too.
Australia: 23
UK: 20
Germany: 3
New Zealand: 3
Hong Kong: 3
US: 3
Malaysia: 1

And so the third leg of my trip ends, and my next stop, South East Asia, is the final one, which is rather a scary thought. How did that happen so quickly?

You can see all my photos of Australia here and all the ones from New Zealand here.

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New Zealand round-up

New Zealand was never part of my plan originally – but when I realised I had to fly via there to get from Chile to Asia, I figured I might as well stop there for a few days to get a little taster of the place.

Whenever I mentioned my plans to spend just six days in the country to friends and other travellers, people regularly told me I was mad – many people I met reckon it’s their favourite country, so to spend such a short time there seemed very strange. But the fact is – as part of a year long trip, the country is just too damn expensive for me to spend too long there, so my plan was to see how I found it and then hopefully come back for longer on a future trip.

First stop was Auckland, and a chance to catch up with my friend Chris, who I originally met on my first day in Laos while on holiday there two years ago, and who I ended up traveling with for the whole three weeks I was there. While I had just been there for a short holiday, at the time he was coming towards the end of a year-long round the world trip, and meeting him and hearing about how much fun it had been was a big part of helping me to decide to take this trip. I’d only seen him once since his trip, as soon after he arrived back in the UK he ended up emigrating to NZ.

Auckland skyline

It was great to see him, and we had nice couple of days exploring Auckland and heading down to the coast to a spot of hiking in the hills to the west of the city. While I had a nice time there, I must admit I found Auckland a little bit quiet as far as cities go (an effect that was probably all the more pronounced after coming straight from South America). I felt the same about the other towns I visited – Taupo & Rotorua, which not only were quiet but reminded me of England about thirty years ago, an effect heightened by the fact that every newsagent sells the Daily Telegraph & Daily Express, and the fact that one of their biggest banks is still using the logo and advertising slogan that our Lloyds bank stopped using about twenty years ago. It was a bit strange, to be honest.

Kerekere beach, west of Auckland

Where New Zealand really scored for me though was the landscapes – the Tongariro Crossing was absolutely stunning, and when I come back I’ll spend very little time in cities (although I hear Wellington is nice) and concentrate on what everyone I met agreed was the highlight – the national parks, coast and mountains of the South Island.

I’m a bit behind on my blogging (as you may have noticed), and seeing as I spent such a short time there, I’ll save the usual spending & other numbers round-ups for a combined one after I leave Australia.

You can see all my New Zealand photos here.

Bubbling mud & stinky geysers

I can’t remember if it was because I first saw it on telly when I was a kid, or because my mum told me about it (she lived in New Zealand when she was a teenager), but Rotorua was one of the first places in the world I remember wanting to visit when I was a child.

After all that waiting, arriving in the town was a bit of a disappointment. The guidebook had assured me that the whole town stank of sulphur from the surrounding geothermal areas, but in fact where th bus dropped me off, there was not a trace (maybe it was something to do with the weather or the direction of the wind), and the town itself was absolutely dead. Things didn’t pick up much when I checked into my hostel, which had to be the worst hostel I have ever stayed in (the Base Hot Rocks, in case you’re interested – avoid like the plague. Dirty rooms, a bathroom where the door didn’t lock, the world’s thinnest duvet, no curtains on the window, slow expensive internet, bored staff, a tiny TV that only seemed to have one channel, and all the atmosphere of a morgue).

*plop*

But it wasn’t the town itself I’d come to see. So I hopped on a bus and headed out into the suburbs to Te Puia, one of the many geothermal areas in and around the city. And it didn’t disappoint. The paths weave their way though a bizarre volcanic landscape, with pools of bubbling, boiling mud all over the place, continuously spouting geysers, and finally, that stink of sulphur all around.

Geysers in Te Puia

Sadly, I didn’t get to enjoy it for too long, as I soon got stuck in a torrential downpour, forcing me inside to wait til it ended (although at least I was able to use the time to see a kiwi – they really are incredibly cute. Although I doubt they’d be very good as a pet, being nocturnal and all).

The town’s other highlight is the government gardens, with the huge, mock tudor, former thermal baths (now the Rotorua museum) sitting in front of manicured bowling greens – a nice, typically English colonial touch, taking a bizarre alien landscape and turning it into a little bit of home, even if that does mean that you get clouds of steam wafting from some nearby volcanic vents wafting across the greens as they play.

A little bit of England in New Zealand (steam not pictured)

You can see all of my photos from Rotorua here.

Hiking past Mount Doom

With only six days to spend in New Zealand, I didn’t have time to do very much. But it wasn’t hard to choose what to do. I’d often read that the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of the world’s best day hikes, so after a couple of days relaxing in Auckland after the long flight from Chile, I headed south to Taupo.

On arrival, the first thing I did on checking into my hostel was ask about doing the crossing the following day – and was gutted to find out that it had been closed for the past couple of weeks because of poor weather conditions, and was unlikely to be open again for some time. I soon met various people in the hostel who’d been waiting in Taupo for several days without luck. I really should have checked the weather before heading down, and planned something else. But then a bit of a miracle happened – at 2pm the daily weather forecast came in, and it was a complete turnaround. They were expecting a glorious day – and therefore the walk was on.

After yet another ridiculously early start, we soon found ourselves at the start of the walk, slightly apprehensive about the fact the first part of the walk contained the devil’s staircase – a short section where most of the day’s ascent would be tackled in one, steep, gruelling section. Luckily for me, the benefits of all that hiking in the Andes seemed to be still present, and while tough, it was still far easier than I’d expected (ah, the joys of not hiking at high altitude) and after an hour or so we were at the first plateau, with a great view of Mt Ngauruhoe (better known as being the setting for Mt Doom in the Lord of the Rings films) rising up above us. The view wasn’t quite as good as I’d hoped, as the day was quite overcast, although it appear to be starting to clear a little.

In the summer months, the walk is even better, as you get the chance to do a tough side-scramble up the slopes of Ngauruhoe – but in early spring there’s just too much snow, so we just had to be content with gazing up at it (I think my legs were quite grateful for that at least), and soon we were on our way across the plateau of the south crater, before tackling the second big ascent. This one wasn’t half as steep or as long as the previous one, but was nearly as tough because this section was covered in snow, making every step far harder than it should have been.

Mt Ngauruhoe

It was all worth it when we got to the top though – by this time the clouds had cleared completely, and we found ourselves on top of a snow-clad, active volcano, with incredible panoramic views across a huge chunk of the North Island, even as far as to Mount Taranaki on the coast. Now normally you’d expect the highest point of a hike, covered in snow, would be a pretty chilly place to stop for lunch – but one of the big advantages of hiking up a volcano was that the rocks on the crater rim are all nice and warm, offering me the perfect spot to sit down and chill out, admiring the views, warming my bum in the process.

Jumping Mt Doom

Full of ham sandwiches and Anzac biscuits, we were soon ready to head on our way – but not before I’d taken the opportunity to get my latest jumping photo, with Mt Doom in the background. One of the great things about jumping photos is not just the end result (a bit more fun than your average posed snap), but they are always fun to take, normally requiring numerous attempts to get that perfect mid-air shot. It’s also pretty infectious too – after I’d shown people the picture of me, everyone wanted a go, so we spent another good half hour or so with everyone on the group jumping up and down.

Tongariro Lakes

The way down is just as spectacular as the way up – soon after the steaming crater, we passed by a couple of bright turquoise lakes, the colours looking even more pronounced when set against the snow. On the final patch of snow it was time for some more silly pictures, with one of my group deciding it would be the perfect opportunity to make some snow angels. So we all stopped again and leapt down into the snow. Snow angels are far too much fun to be left to children.

Making snow angels = fun

As we made our way out of the crater, the landscape changed dramatically again, giving us a great view out towards Lake Taupo and the hills around. We stopped at a hut on the way down to admire the views for a while, before finally heading back through the final section, through a forest, back to the car park and thoroughly knackered after a great day’s hiking.

Lake Taupo

In the end, I was so lucky with my timing – that night saw a huge dump of snow and further storms, meaning the crossing would be closed for the following few days at least (which also put paid to my plans to go skiing the following day).

You can see all my photos of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing here.