Five weeks enjoying ‘Endless Summer’

Endless Summer is a beautiful hostel situated in Ahipara, the Far North, right next to the ninety-mile beach. The owners, Anna and Blain, are a super friendly couple who have run the lodge for 14 years.

The first thing you notice about ‘Endless Summer’ is the beauty of the building. Built in 1870 from just one Kaori tree, the lodge is old for New Zealand standards. The building fell into disrepair for many years, until it was bought by a builder who completely renovated the place. It then passed onto Anna and Blaine who have lovingly created a fantastic high-end backpackers – somewhere to spend a few days at the end of your long trip around New Zealand, or to simply retreat and enjoy some peace and quiet away from your busy NZ life.

I spent 5 weeks working for accommodation at the hostel – and I wish I could’ve spent longer. For two and a half hours every morning I cleaned the three downstairs bathrooms, the kitchen, the lounge and the dormitory – in exchange for free accommodation and FREE surf hire. Afternoons were spent chilling in the hammocks outside, swimming in the clear blue waters at the ninety-mile beach over the road, or surfing along the coastline.

Anna and Blaine have created something truly special here. The hostel feels like a home-from-home – it’s comfortable, the facilities are excellent and the staff even better! There’s no TV so this encourages the guests to socialise around the large table in the courtyard at the back, there are numerous puzzles and games for those days when it does rain, and you can enjoy the spectacular ocean views from a hammock or deck chair in the large front garden – a mere 20 second walk to the sea. There’s also an abundance of activities to participate in (if you haven’t come to simply relax!):

  • Cape Reinga (the most northern tip of New Zealand) is a mere hour and a half drive – some guests do self-drive, however there’s an excellent tour that costs only $55 pp. This means you get to drive on the beach, and it also includes lunch – I didn’t hear a bad thing about this tour! My parents even did it when they stayed at the lodge.
  • Sand boarding – take your free board from the hostel and walk around the coastline to the sand dunes there, or drive up towards Cape Reinga and try out the huge dunes there. It’s such good fun to glide down a huge sandy hill on the board – albeit hot and sandy! You’ll likely only do this once or twice, because the climb up is a bit of a challenge… especially in the heat.
  • Short walks around the rugged and rocky coastline (only at low tide) where you can find pristine beaches and sand dunes. Or walk along the beach towards shipwreck bay (the ‘shipwreck’ is simply a rusty pole in the ground), or up the hill to the viewpoint behind the hostel – with magnificent views of Ahipara and the beautiful northland coastline.
  • Surfing – the hostel offers guest specials for surfboard and wetsuit hire. $50 for 5 days, or $20 for one – complete bargain! There’s an abundance of places to go and surf, from beginner to expert. Try further afield (strap the boards to the roof of your car) or just across the road at the beach opposite is also fantastic for beginners.
  • Tuatua and mussel ‘foraging’ along the ninety mile beach. At low tide you can pluck mussels from the rocks, or if you’re feeling even more ‘adventurous’ try your hand at digging for tuatuas – you stick your heal in the sand and wiggle it around to form a hole, then if you’re lucky you can come across loads of these shelled delicacies. SPOILER – you can get VERY wet.
  • Star gazing – the sky here is so clear and so bright, you can see the milky way on most nights. It’s awe-inspiring to just lie on the beach and look up at the night sky.
  • There’s also horseriding, quad biking, body boarding and many more activities to keep yourself preoccupied…

Endless Summer is a truly magical place. Relax with a book, explore the coastline, try out surfing or simply make some brilliant friends and share a beer or two under the stars. I urge you to stay at this place – you honestly won’t regret a second.

Christmas in Wellington

As my parents abandoned me just before Christmas, I was initially looking forward to a rather bleak one all by myself in my car in some camp ground in the middle of nowhere. FUN! But my amazing friend Jess rescued me from this grim prospect and so I was invited to spend Christmas with her, and her husband’s family in Wellington.

Christmas in New Zealand is rather strange. For one, it’s HOT – this means no wrapping up warm and rushing into the nearest shop playing festive music, or enjoying a gluhwein after a candle-lit carol service, or sitting by the fire in a small pub in the countryside – yes, this is actually what my Christmases are usually like. Alternatively, Kiwi’s enjoy BBQ’s on the beach, a cold beer on the sun deck, and enjoying Cliff Richard’s finest Christmas tune whilst wondering around in your ‘jandals’ and ‘togs’. It’s just… weird. And it doesn’t feel like Christmas.  There’s none of the hype, there’s limited decorations and of course, there aren’t any Yorkshire puddings to go with your traditional roast dinner.

It actually felt more Christmassy in Queenstown! Naturally, over the winter we celebrated ‘Christmas in July’, along with the whole of the town and the ski fields. Christmas trees were put up for the occasion, the town was covered in lights and the mountain staff wore their best Christmas jumpers. In my house we enjoyed a traditional roast dinner – with ALL the trimmings – and we participated in a house ‘Secret Santa’. It was cold, there was snow and we had a fire. Nuff said.

Having said that, Christmas in Wellington – where we enjoyed beautifully long hot and sunny days (which I’m told isn’t the norm) for the period, was a unique and unforgettable experience. I wore my palm tree shirt, I went for a dip in the (admittedly VERY cold) ocean, and partook in the classic Kiwi BBQ. Christmas with the Wilsons was different, but fantastic.

Mum & Dad hit up NZ

My parents had been meaning to visit New Zealand for years. They’ve been talking about it… but never got their butts in gear and did something about it. But when I decided to come out here, they finally got their act together to visit this fabulous country, and also, of course, their darling daughter.

I spent around 6 weeks travelling around the North and South Islands with them, staying in some amazing (and some not so amazing…) hostels, visiting places that I hadn’t yet been to, and just having a fantastic time being back with my nearest and dearest.

Photo Gallery of the North Island

Some highlights from our trip together include;

  • Riding on the ‘Driving Creek Railway’ in Coromandel Town. In essence, this is a mini railway line built by Barry Brickell over the period of 40 years – the line goes up a hill through the bush, with spectacular views at the top.
  • Driving round the East Coast – exploring the wildest areas of New Zealand. Where Captain Cook first disembarked on NZ soil, the isolated Maori communities, and the largely desolate areas of Tokamaru Bay and Tolaga – the latter is famous for housing New Zealand’s longest wharf.
  • Stepping back in time in Napier – where the whole town was rebuilt in the 1930s Art Deco after a big earthquake.
  • Walking the 19.4km Tongariro crossing on a beautifully sunny day.
  • Spending a day walking the Abel Tasman track – discovering pristine sandy beaches and beautiful views along the way.
  • Flying sky high in a helicopter over the glaciers and Mount Cook in the Southern Alps.
  • Showing them around my former Queenstown home and taking them for a delicious meal at Britannia – my former workplace and fantastic restaurant.
  • A trip on the Earnslaw in Queenstown – learning about the farm and enjoying a yummy afternoon tea overlooking Lake Wakatipu.
  • Walking around the foot of Mount Cook in Mount Cook National Park – unfortunately the peak was covered in clouds, but the beauty of the place is breathtaking regardless.
  • The beautiful carpet of Lupins near Lake Tekapo.
  • Numerous Mummy cuddles that will hopefully last me until I next see them…

Photo Gallery of the South Island

Roadtrippin’ New Zealand with the parents was a truly fantastic (though sometimes stressful) experience; it was great to see them again and to explore this wonderful country that has been my home for the last year. I think Mum hopes I settle here so she can enjoy back to back summers…

A winter spent in Queenstown

The anniversary of my year in New Zealand has just been and gone, and I have so many stories to tell, so many pictures to share… and yet I’m doing a terrible job at doing just that.

The following few posts are a quick run-through of what I’ve been up to over the last 9 months.

QUEENSTOWN

Queenstown and the Remarkables from the Skyline

Queenstown and the Remarkables from the Skyline

Spending 6 glorious months (May – Nov 2015) in this beautifully compact town in New Zealand was a truly fantastic experience. The following is a typical day in the life of a Queenstown ski bum:

10am  – Head up the mountain
11am  – Ski/ board all day
5pm   – Head to work, free dinner
10pm – Finish work, free beer
11pm  – Head out on the lash

REPEAT.

BUT… THIS. IS. NOT. REALITY.

Snowboarding!

Snowboarding!

Sometimes I can’t believe this was my life for the whole of the ski season. It was great, I had SO much ski time it was ridiculous. But perhaps my wallet, and my liver were a little sore by the end of my time in Queenstown.

And. It’s FLIPPING TINY.

In Queenstown you’re surrounded by absolutely stunning scenery, the air is fresh and the ski bum life is fantastic – for a time. Once the snow goes, there isn’t a whole lot to do… other than frequent the many amazing bars in town.

And, there are some downsides to living in such a unique place:

  • If you want to go out for the day somewhere, your options are limited. ‘Ummm… shall we go to Wanaka again?’
  • If you want to do something fun – make sure you have A LOT of money in the bank to pay for the astronomically overpriced tourist attractions in town.
  • If you want a decent and warm house – be prepared to pay FAR TOO MUCH for a bed, and not even your own room.
  • And. If you want a job at the beginning of the ski season… Well. PERSISTANCE IS KEY.

Don’t get me wrong, skiing and boarding EVERY DAY was fantastic, I loved my job, my manager and the staff there, I had some brilliant friends, I lived in an ‘OK’ house, and I relished the whole QT lifestyle for a time. And I had every intention of going back after my parents visited… UNTIL I LEFT and realised that QT is a bubble… and it’s just too claustrophobic for me.

But I’ll leave you with some photos… Yep. I lived in this beautiful place.

Jealous much?

From Picton to Queenstown down the West Coast

South Island Route

After a 3 and a half hour boat journey from Wellington to Picton – despite the cancellations because of weather warnings, the crossing was beautifully calm with blue skies and stunning scenery – I arrived safely on New Zealand’s South Island. And so began my journey down to Queenstown.

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Rather than describe my trip thoroughly (which is rather difficult now 4 months down the line), here’s a selection of highlights from my drive down the West Coast.

  • Dining on freshly caught pan fried blue cod whilst camping right by the sea at the remote French Pass campsite in the heart of the Marlborough sounds.
  • Driving along the meandering and beautiful road in the Abel Tasman National Park and spending a freezing night camped in the heart of the park.
  • Picking up a hitch hiker and heading all the way to Cape Farewell – wondering along the stunning beach; watching young seals play with each other less than a foot away; and camping in a free spot with breathtaking scenery, a campfire, and sharing beers with a stranger.
  • Visiting the abandoned coal mining town of Denniston – which was situated high on a plateau. All that remains is rubble, tracks and old coal mine carts – it’s a fascinating reminder of what was once the thriving gold and coal mining west coast.
  • Stopping at various towns that were once home to thousands of people who hoped to make their fortune from gold mining.
  • Driving along the dramatic (albeit rainy) coastline.
  • Setting up camp in my car at various free DOC campsites dotted along the coast.
  • Marvelling at the Punakaiki rocks – often referred to as the ‘Pancake rocks’ as they look like stacked pancakes. When waves come the sea tunnels through blow holes in the rocks.
  • Driving through the mountains on the scenic Arthur’s Pass road.
  • Walking to the base of the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers in the pouring rain and not being able to see a thing…
  • Sitting by the stunningly calm waters of Lake Matheson and depicting the reflections of Mount Cook in the water.
  • Visiting beautiful Wanaka in the Autumnal rain.

I saw some incredible sites, met some fantastic people and had a blast exploring some of New Zealand before settling in Queenstown for the busy winter season months.

Windy Wellington

I realise I’ve become a little tardy in updating my blog – that’s what travelling does! Yes I was in Wellington a couple of weeks ago now, but it’s never too late to post about it.

After a rushed drive from Hamilton (where I stayed overnight with a friend I met in Jordan) to Wellington – I drove the lot in a day – I arrived in Wellington tired and hungry. It was lovely to be welcomed by familiar faces (Jess and Jeremy had travelled down to visit his parents) and to have some yummy dinner saved for me 🙂

I decided to drive from Hamilton to Wellington in a day because the weather was completely AWFUL. My views of the stunning Lake Taupo were grey, misty and drizzly. Although I did make time to explore some of the hot springs in Rotorua and enjoy a free dip in a hot spring pool! In the end it was much better to drive all the way to a place I was guaranteed a proper bed and friends for the night – rather than a damp and soggy one in my car! And plus, I’ll definitely be visiting these places again some day – and hopefully then I’ll be able to see them!

Wellington is a fabulous and trendy city with quirky coffee shops and loads of things to do on a wet or very windy day. Te Papa, the national museum, houses fantastic exhibitions on New Zealand, Maori and natural history. You can read the Waitangi Treaty and learn about the frictions it caused, view a colossal (and decaying) squid, and explore the beginnings of immigration to New Zealand with the first British and European settlers. There’s also a very interesting new exhibition all about the 75 years of Air New Zealand. In a nutshell, this museum it well worth a visit, you can easily while away half a day exploring the 4 floors – and it’s completely free!

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Another ‘must-do’ whilst in Wellington is ride the Wellington Cable Car (or funicular as I know it) – a leisurely 5 minute ride that takes you up 120 metres to a botanic garden overlooking the city. Instead of paying for a return, I paid the $4 trip up and walked back to the city through the beautiful garden. This was a fascinating walk through various trees, flowers and also cemeteries that house the remains of the first settlers.

Mount Victoria is also worth climbing or driving up for stunning 360° views over Wellington. It was rather windy and cloudy when I went up but still enjoyed great views! Here’s a picture of Jess and I on the summit;

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Whilst I was in Wellington the weather wasn’t great, there was rain, wind and very choppy seas – my boat to Picton was cancelled and then delayed – but I finally made it 2 days later than originally planned. But no matter, I was staying with an amazing family (parents of Jess’s husband) who were more than happy to have me. I cherished the time sitting in the dining room overlooking Island Bay, whilst catching up on some blog posts and editing pictures! And evenings spent by the fire watching The Good Life – what bliss! I am very, very thankful for the friend I have in Jess and the amazing people I’ve met through her – it’s simply fantastic to have connections in countries so far away from home!

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The couple I stayed with took me on a day trip to Castle Rock – a beautiful 3 hour drive to the East Coast. It was incredibly windy walking up to the lookout over the bay, but the perilous walk up was rewarded with stunning views of the lighthouse and surrounding areas.

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Such a fantastic day to an incredible place. The wind was like nothing I’ve ever experienced though – at one point when walking up to the lighthouse, I was holding on so tight to the railing and could barely move for fear of falling into the roaring sea below!

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And so my stay on the North Island (for now) came to an end – I feel so blessed to have stayed with some great people and to have felt a part of a Kiwi family for a few weeks. The North Island is full of surprises, there’s great scenery, fantastic beaches and friendly people, and I can’t wait to come back. But for now… it’s onto the South!

Exploring New Zealand’s Northland

After a couple of weeks in Auckland I began to get restless and wanted to be on the move again. And so I set off with my car (come bedroom / lounge / kitchen…) for a six day exploration of New Zealand’s far North.

I drove my car along some spectacular winding roads, stayed in amazingly beautiful camp grounds, enjoyed some fine coastal and forest scenery, and had fun with some great company.

Here’s a selection of photos from my first few days taken between Auckland and Paihia. Please hover and click on them to see the bigger picture.

On my fourth day I reached Paihia where I met up with my friends Charlie and Rich from home (was great to see some familiar faces!), and also overheard three Canadian girls saying they wanted to hitchhike up to Cape Reinga, and so I offered to take all three of them. There started a three day epic adventure with three lovely girls and one jam packed car. It was so lovely to have company and to share these wonderful sites with.

Some highlights from this short trip include;

  • Driving a section of the 90 mile beach
  • Sandboarding on the Te Paki dunes
  • Climbing to the top of a boulder with fantastic 360° views
  • Driving along the small winding roads
  • Hunting for kiwi birds in the darkness – though not much luck…
  • Walking to the most Northerly point of New Zealand – in the rain
  • Camping right next to the sea and enjoying a spectacular sunset
  • A morning dip in the ocean before setting off on another day’s drive
  • Playing euchre with some lovely Canadian girls

Here’s a few pictures from this section of my trip – from Paihia all the way to Cape Reinga, then back down the West Coast and inland to explore the many forests inhabited with numerous native animals and trees – including the massive kauri tree. (Again, click to enlarge and explore.)

These adventures are hopefully the start of many, many more to come! New Zealand is a fantastic place, full of great scenery at every turn… and I can’t wait to explore more.

Arrival in Auckland

In mid-March I finally flew the last leg of my journey – over to New Zealand, where I hope to spend a year on a working holiday visa.

I stayed with my friend Jess, her husband and her very cute baby daughter for around 2 weeks whilst I got myself sorted. It’s incredibly invaluable having friends around the world, because it means you have a base to stay and local knowledge of the areas. I met Jess 5 years ago in the U.S where we were spend 3 months living in the same room as co-counsellors at a Salvation Army Summer Camp for underprivileged children – it was so great to see her again after all those years!

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Jess lives in a suburb of Auckland called Manukau, which is about 23km south of the city centre, and a 20 minute drive when there isn’t any of the infamous Auckland traffic. I spent much of time my time relaxing, enjoying Jess and the baby’s company and looking for a car. Getting around by public transport in Auckland is do-able but expensive and time-consuming. I took the train into the city on one day – a 30 minute walk to the station and then a 50 minute train ride (that’s why everyone drives!). This is precisely why I wanted to purchase my own car to get around in – and to sleep in whilst on the move.

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Having come straight from Melbourne (which is a bustling city with so much going on), Auckland felt a bit… small and quiet. Don’t get me wrong, it has it’s interesting parts – especially walking along the harbour, or enjoying the skyline from Mount Eden or One Tree Hill, but it doesn’t rate as one of the best cities I’ve been to.

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Nonetheless, Auckland is filled with some beautiful green areas, lovely beaches and detached single floor properties – hence why it’s such a sprawling city. Jess and I visited the botanic gardens, which are beautiful and also absolutely massive – there’s large grass areas, a forest, flower gardens, children’s educational areas and of course a coffee shop.

After a week I finally found my car – a dark green 1998 Mazda Capella station wagon – which came with a mattress, stove and $25 of change (Jess and I treated ourselves in a chocolate cafe) in the front door pocket. This enabled me to get around the city better, and meant I could go out to the shops and buy all the provisions and gear I needed to make my car a home away from home. (Some photos of my car will follow in the next post.)

It’s been fantastic to see my friend again and to be able to relax for a while before my journey in New Zealand truly begins – it truly is a great way to be welcomed into a new country and I’ll forever be grateful to them both for letting me stay.