Europe, Asia, Australia and Oceania · 34 Days · 108 Moments · February 2018

Kat's adventures in New Zealand

30 March 2018

And so that's it, it's time for the long journey home! A month and a bit has flown by but I've done so many amazing things, seen some beautiful places and met great people, many of whom I hope to see again (and already have plans to in some cases)! Super proud of myself for all the things I never thought I could or would do: the whole solo travel experience for one, but also all the crazy stuff like the bungy jumping. Definitely got the travel bug now, and planning where I'll be off to next! ❤

29 March 2018

Enjoyed my last dinner in New Zealand back at the Little High Eatery with Hannah and Harry, this time with live music and cocktails. Perfect way to end an incredible month!
It brightened up considerably as the day went on, so later in the afternoon I went for a walk through the botanical gardens, where everything was starting to turn autumnal which I love.
The afternoon was well spent with a bit of retail therapy to get some souvenirs (mainly in the form of chocolate haha).
My last day in Christchurch started off pretty overcast, but undeterred I headed up the gondola for supposedly panoramic views over the city. Except it was so misty when we got up there that we could barely see anything! So I had a brownie and went on this little time tunnel ride about the history of Canterbury, and then walked to the viewpoint just in case we could see anything. The mist did lift a little in one direction, but mostly we just had to use our imaginations!

28 March 2018

After a long day out, I found a lovely Italian place for a late dinner.
After the dolphin swimming we dried off and then watched them from the boat for a while. There were quite a few swimming under the bows of our boat for a bit so we got a really close up view.
In the afternoon I swam with wild dolphins, which was an incredible experience. After the usual tussle with the wetsuit (getting used to that, though this was worse as I got fully dressed only to discover there was a massive hole and I had to get a new one!) we went out on a boat in search of dolphins. When the captain spotted some, we stopped and he sounded the horn, and we jumped off the boat and got snorkelling. We were told to make lots of noises to attract the dolphins' interest, which did weirdly work. My humming of the national anthem was particularly successful, as I got a dolphin swimming round in circles with me which was amazing! When the dolphins lost interest and swam off, we got back on the boat and went looking for some more. They're completely wild and not trained at all, so we were relying on the captain being able to find them and then them being interested enough in us for us to get up close with them. Got lucky on both counts as we saw so many dolphins!
Early start the next day to head up the coast about 2.5 hours to Kaikoura. Once we got there we stopped at a seal colony where I saw three seals, including one that we got super close to as it was snoozing on the boardwalk, and another that kept barking at me!

27 March 2018

We stumbled across the Little High Eatery for dinner, which has lots of little food stalls with all different types of cuisine, so everyone can choose something different and eat together. After that I did some more exploring, seeing the cardboard cathedral (a temporary cathedral built as the original one was part destroyed by the 2011 earthquake), and an art installation called 185 empty chairs, which commemorates those that died in the TV building in the 2011 earthquake. Walking around Christchurch, there are plenty of reminders about the devastation caused by the earthquakes - one that I found particularly poignant was an empty bookshop with stacks of old books left discarded, including piles of 2011 diaries.
In the afternoon I met up with Hannah and Harry and we went to Quake City, a museum all about the earthquakes that hit Canterbury 7 and 8 years ago. The exhibitions were great and really brought home the impact that the earthquakes have had, that you can't understand completely just from walking around the city. There were videos of Cantabrians talking about their earthquake experiences, which ranged from quite funny (the policeman who grabbed a random judge and held a mini court session by the river outside the courthouse to decide which of the prisoners he'd rescued that were being detained could be released on bail, and which had to be taken to another prison outside the quake zone) to incredibly moving (the guy who was flying back from Auckland when the quake hit, whose wife was in a building that was completely destroyed and unfortunately didn't survive).
There's a lot of work going on to rebuild Christchurch after the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes where they lost about 80% of the buildings in the city centre. Alongside this there's lots of street art, installations etc which are cool to look at and give the place a really good vibe. I really liked this cartoon strip that ran along the outside of some of the building works in cathedral square. And I was surprised to see a little bit of home here too!
The next morning was nice and chilled. After a lie in I headed out to explore Christchurch, and had the best coffee ever in the sun. I've found that New Zealanders generally are a lot more friendly than I'm used to loving in London (not difficult, admittedly!) but Christchurch folk are even more so. For example, I walked past a builder 3 times in the space of about 45 minutes (was heading one way, decided to go back and get a coffee first for a bit, and then continued back the same way) and on the third time he stopped me to ask if I was lost and needed a map. You'd be lucky to get catcalled at by a builder in London, let alone any offer of help!

26 March 2018

After my near death experience (😉) I made it to Christchurch in one piece and met up with Rose, Raf, Harriet, Mike, Hannah and Harry for drinks and dessert. On our way back to the hostel we found an amazing playground and couldn't resist making the most of it! I've since found out it's rated as Christchurch's #1 attraction on TripAdvisor 👍
While the bus continued on to Christchurch, I hopped off in Rangitata for my last bit of adrenaline for the trip - white water rafting. I hadn't really thought about what this would be like before I did it, other than some vague idea we'd be gently floating down a river with a few bumpy bits. My first clue it wouldn't be like this was when one of the girls I was doing it with (who had a lot of rafting experience) was all excited about it being the best rafting in NZ as it was the only river with grade 5 rapids... I didn't even know what this meant! Until a few hours later when I fell in one 😐 Luckily I was sitting in front of one of the instructors who hauled me back in, so I wasn't in the water for long. But it was definitely long enough! That was in between the two bits of grade 5 rapids, and if they'd let me get off I would have, but I had to do the other bit. Once we got that out the way, the rest was really fun, but I'll be thinking twice before doing it again!!
Next up we stopped in a little town called Fairlie to sample some of their award winning bakehouse pies. It was still 10.30am though, which is too early for pies in my book, so I had half of the world's biggest doughnut instead (I had to give away the other half it was that big!).
The next morning we left Mount Cook and headed for Lake Tekapo. We stopped off at a gorgeous church that overlooks the lake. It had a massive window taking up most of the back wall to take advantage of the views - you can see why it's such a popular wedding venue!

25 March 2018

The Mount Cook national park is meant to be one of the best places in the world to stargaze, so I'd signed up to do a session at the observatory with a proper telescope and everything. Unfortunately it was cancelled due to the weather... as you can see from the first picture! So I had a drink with some friends and gave my tinder account over to one of them instead, with some entertaining results!
When we got to Mount Cook we went on a walk through the Hooker Valley to a glacial lake. I really wasn't in the mood for a hike but there wasn't anything else to do! There was some beautiful scenery, but by the time we got to the lake it was raning and very windy, and to be honest I wasn't that impressed with the view that we'd just spent an hour and a half reaching (I've obviously been spoiled by all the other amazing views elsewhere in NZ)! At least the weather improved on the way back.
Stopped for lunch by Lake Pukaki, which has some of the bluest water I've ever seen. Definitely worth the slightly hairy trek down from the bus to the lake that most people didn't brave!!
Some more stunning views on the drive the next day as we left Queenstown and headed over the Lindis Pass towards Mount Cook.

24 March 2018

I was going to have an early night, but bumped into lots of people I'd been on other buses with when we got to the hostel in Queenstown, so stopped for a quick drink with them first.
It was a quick hop back over to Stewart Island on the water taxi, and on the way back to the hostel we climbed Observation Rock which gave us great views back over to Ulva Island. Then it was time for the ferry ride back to the South Island (much smoother this time!) and an express bus ride back to Queenstown.
We got a water taxi over to Ulva Island, an even more remote island that is mostly a protected area for birds. Apparently this was our best chance of seeing wild kiwi during the day, but again no luck. We did get some beautiful weather though, and spent a good few hours walking, birdwatching and enjoying the lovely beaches.
Next morning we explored a bit around Oban, the main (pretty much only) town on Stewart Island. We pretended the cormorant we saw on the beach was a penguin, to make us feel less bad about our failures the day before!

23 March 2018

Stewart Island is pretty remote, and only has about 400 permanent residents. It's meant to be really good for wildlife spotting, so we quickly headed out to try and spot the little blue penguins that apparently like to come out around dusk. The weather was a bit grim and there was absolutely no sign of penguins, so we headed back to the hostel to pass the time until we could go kiwi spotting. We were advised to head out around 11.30pm for that, and passed the time playing cards and drinking. Needless to say, by the time 11.30 rolled around we were pretty drunk and stood absolutely zero chance of being quiet and stealthy enough to see any kiwis! We got lost trying to find the place we were going to, and when we finally got there we wondered round a field with red filters over our phone torches (so as not to scare the kiwis off) in circles before falling up a hill. Despite our failure to actually see any local wildlife, it was still a fun evening :)
After a $5 fish and chip lunch (surprisingly good!) we did a quick whizz around a museum in Invercargill museum (odd mix of exhibitions including WWI, a 150 year old lizard, motorcars and art gallery stuff) before heading to the ferry terminal in Bluff. There we caught the ferry to Stewart Island, an hour off the coast of the South Island.
Stopped off in Te Anau again for a bit, including the local bird sanctuary, and then Lake Manapouri which was absolutely stunning!
The weather the next morning started off misty but brightened up a lot as we drove back through Fiordland, so we got some incredible views.

22 March 2018

We stayed the night at Gunns Camp, a really cute campground in the middle of nowhere. Electricity came from a diesel generator that was turned off at 10pm, so our huts were heated via wood burners that our appointed fire chief was meant to keep going through the night. Unfortunately we ran out of wood around midnight so I slept in all my clothes (two of everything) and was still freezing when I woke up! Having said that, it was a really cool place to stay in for a night. Mike, Leslie and I shared a cabin with Rose, Raf and Julie and had great fun playing cards and getting drunk until it got too dark to see and we had exhausted the power in the back up solar lamp. At which point we decided it was a good idea to walk 500m up the pitch black road to find glowworms (there were about 3, v disappointing!). The night sky was incredible though so we did some great stargazing 💫
After Milford Sound we stopped off at the Chasm, a waterfall that has shaped the rocks really weirdly over the years. We also saw several kea, which are a type of alpine parrot. They have the intelligence of a four year old and like to destroy tourists' cars, so there is a kea gym built near the entrance of the Homer tunnel (the big tunnel through the centre of the mountains down to Milford Sound, which is where we saw the kea). Cars often have to wait here at traffic lights before they can go though the tunnel, so the gym is meant to distract kea from wrecking too many cars! Apparently the kea have wised up to this though, so the gym has to be changed every month to keep them entertained and away from the cars... 😂
Milford Sound is sometimes called the eighth wonder of the world, and it's easy to see why. We went on a boat trip around it, and as it had been raining lots recently there were lots of extra waterfalls to see which was cool. We got really close to one and got a bit of a shower (which apparently takes 10 years off you)! Sailing into the wind on the way back certainly woke me up.
We left Queenstown the next morning, heading for the deep south and Fiordland. Stopped off along the way at the Mirror Lakes and saw some other great scenery, even though it got really cold and misty - that added to the atmosphere!

21 March 2018

Met up with Leslie, Mike, Hannah and Harry for drinks at a Mexican place afterwards, where there was some great live music.
I spent the afternoon pottering around doing a bit of shopping, and then headed over to the Onsen Hot Pools for an evening of relaxation. I had a hot pool to myself for an hour with a glass of bubbly and amazing views over the Shotover River, followed by an hour long massage. Sooo nice!! (Thanks for the recommendation Rhianne ☺️)
The next day was grey and drizzly. We took the gondola up to get great views over Queenstown, and then went luging. It was great fun (though my steering left a lot to be desired...) even if we were a bit cold and damp by the end!

20 March 2018

To recover from the ordeals of the day, I met up with the girls I'd made friends with in the north island (Bev, Bron and Niamh). They cooked a lovely homemade dinner for us and we had a few drinks and watched the Great British Bake Off!
After the horrendous experience of the bungy jump, I did the Nevis swing with Leslie (a fellow Stray-er who also did the bungy jump but loved it). This is the largest swing in the world, with a 70m freefall drop. After the jump I wasn't nervous at all and really enjoyed it!
Standing on the edge, I really didn't think I was going to be able to jump - and looking back at the pictures now, I still can't believe that I did!! I screamed all the way down (I think more than anyone they've had do it before... I had a sore throat after!) and think I pulled the cord to upright myself a bit earlier than I was meant to, though I had no idea whether I was going up or down, or how many times I'd bounced. It was the most terrifying thing I've ever done, and I genuinely don't think I would ever be able to do it again, but I'm so proud of myself for doing it!
I have never been anywhere near as scared as this before. The Nevis bungy jump is 134m high, the highest in New Zealand and third highest in the world. My logic was that it would be hard to jump off any bungy thing, so I might as well go for the big one... but I was seriously doubting my decision in the lead up to the jump!!
I spent the next morning exploring Queenstown (and trying to psych myself up for what was coming next!!). I started off with breakfast on the beach, wandered round the lakeside and the headland, and back through Queenstown gardens and the middle of town.

19 March 2018

The one thing everyone says you HAVE to do in Queenstown is have a Fergburger. Allegedly the best burger in the world, there are always long queues, sometimes stretching down the road outside the shop. I couldn't not try one and see if it lived up to the hype. To be fair it was a good burger, though I'm not sure the experience is going to make my top 10 New Zealand moments (and that's coming from someone who really likes her food!!). Hannah, Harry, Mike and I enjoyed our burgers down on the beach, accompanied by cider and seagulls.
Coming into Queenstown, we stopped at the world's first commercial bungy site, Kawarau bridge. A few people in our bus did the jump, and for reasons I still can't quite understand I decided to change my mind about never ever doing a bungy jump, and signed up for the world's third largest jump (!!) the next day. Cue 24 hours of worrying...
We stopped off in Cromwell at a fruit farm and shop, where they had an incredible selection of fruit and veg. I of course went for the fresh fruit ice cream instead (I'd earned it after that walk!), and enjoyed it in some lovely gardens behind the shop.
Before leaving Wanaka we walked up Mount Iron to get some lovely views over the town. We had to walk up pretty quickly to make sure we got back in time, and it was very steep in places, hence the red face in the pictures! Despite the weather not being great the views were still impressive.
I got woken up and couldn't go back to sleep, so went out to see the sunrise. By the time I'd got a good vantage point the sun was almost up, but then a rainbow came out for 5 minutes which was magical.

18 March 2018

Had a chilled evening at the cinema, watching The Death of Stalin. Average film but loved the cinema - there were comfy sofas and armchairs, and you could take food in so it was just like being at home! They also had an intermission for home baked cookies 😊
Met up with Hannah and Harry, a couple I'd travelled with before who'd hopped off in Wanaka, and we went for ice cream and a walk along the beach. Had to go and see #thatwanakatree - a lone tree in the lake that grows off a fence post and has become famous on Instagram. There was a guy playing a piano in front of it, which was a bit random but great to stop and listen to for a while.
The sun came out and we got some incredible views as we came into Wanaka!
Stopped off at Blue Pools where some crazy people jumped off the bridge (it definitely wasn't warm enough for swimming!).
Some views from the drive, including Thunder Falls.
Stopped off at Ship's Creek for a picnic lunch, which was lovely apart from the sandflies. We did see lots of dolphins swimming along the shore though.
Another long driving day today, broken up with various stops. First up was Lake Matheson, which is well known for its amazing reflected views of Mount Cook and Mount Tasman. We were a bit short of time and I wanted to walk round the whole lake, so turned it into an opportunity for a power walk.

17 March 2018

Celebrated St Patrick's Day with all you can eat pizza and some Irish themed drinks and decorations (mostly consisting of potatoes...).
After the glacier trek I spent a few hours relaxing in the hot pools that are fed with water from the glacier. I didn't read the signs properly and started in the hottest pool which was 40 degrees, but didn't realise until I'd been in there a few minutes and was starting to get pretty warm!
We spent a couple of hours trekking around the glacier. I got used to the crampons quite quickly and managed not to fall over, but the crevasses were another thing altogether - some of them were so narrow I pretty much got stuck and had to really push to get through!
We were lucky enough to wake up to perfect weather. Apparently up to 80% of flights get cancelled, and I'd heard from plenty of other travellers who had not been able to go up onto the glacier, so it was great to have the weather go in my favour for once. Fortified myself with a full English in preparation for spending the middle of the day on the glacier, and then it was off to the helipad! The ride up to the glacier was only about 5 minutes, but I didn't mind as I got to have my free, longer helicopter experience when getting evacuated from Blue Duck Station!

16 March 2018

Finally arrived in Franz Josef where we're staying for two nights. It's a really small town mainly here for the glacier. We're staying in a hostel in the rainforest next to the glacier which is pretty cool. Went for a wander with Marieve and Charmine and caught our first glimpse of the glacier once the clouds cleared! Fingers crossed the weather is good tomorrow and we can helicopter onto the glacier and go trekking.
Another quick stop off at Hokitika, a town that's mostly famous for it's green rock (jade). I didn't fancy visiting the endless shops selling it, so went for a wander and found a lovely beach instead.
Stopped off at Punakaiki to see the 'pancake rocks', so called because the layers of granite look like stacks of pancakes. Apparently the most visited natural attraction in the south island. There were also some cool blowholes, where the waves crashed in and were forced up inside the rocks and out as mist.
Lots of driving down the west coast today with some amazing scenery (despite the variable weather).

15 March 2018

Next stop was for a walk around Cape Foulwind, a peninsula on the west coast. Saw another seal colony too (I think they were actual seals this time) though they are very well camoflagued - see if you can spot the big one in the picture!
Stopped off for a quick photo opportunity at the Buller Gorge on our way through the Kahurangi national park.
I've always said I would never be brave enough to jump out of a plane... but feel the fear and do it anyway, and all that, so here I am! In the end it was absolutely incredible, and everyone who said the nerves go as soon as you jump were completely right. The plane ride up was scary, especially as the two other girls with me jumped at 13,000 feet so I saw them disappear and then had another 3,500 up to go! I was given an oxygen mask for the last bit too so that made it a bit more scary. I was terrified sitting on the edge of the plane, but before I knew it we were out and it was just amazing. I don't remember it that well as it was such an overload of the senses and it went so quickly, but the views were incredible and the feeling of weightless was weird - I expected it to be like the feeling on a rollercoaster when your stomach just drops, but it wasn't at all. Super proud of myself for doing it, and surprised that I'm actually kind of keen to do it again!!
Woke up to another gorgeous sunrise and a slight feeling of dread... today is the big one!

14 March 2018

We trekked up to the top of the canyon, about 130m above sea level, for about 90mins. After lunch the fun began - a mixture of climbing, jumping, swimming, sliding, abseiling and ziplining to get to the bottom of the canyon. There were quite a few scary parts - some pretty steep slides including one where you shoot off the rock and then plunge down, being lowered through a waterfall (like going through a washing machine!), and jumping off a 6m then 8m rock. The last two were optional and I nearly didn't manage them, but proud that I did! We didn't see any other people for the 3 or 4 hours we were in the canyon, right until the end, which is pretty special given it's New Zealand's smallest but busiest national park. We were lucky with the weather (though the water was still freezing!) and had a nice 30min walk back followed by aqua taxi ride to finish off the day. Pretty exhausting and I ended up quite bruised and aching afterwards, but totally worth it.
Action packed day of canyoning today, starting with an amazing sunrise. Got an aqua taxi up the national park to a beautiful beach called Anchorage Bay, via some pretty cool coastline and a spotting of a seal colony with some cute baby seals! (They were technically sealions but apparently everyone calls them seals anyway.)

13 March 2018

So this is a lame photograph but for a nice memory... Picked up the bus in Picton not expecting to see anyone I knew as I thought they'd all gone on ahead, but there were two Irish sisters (Christine and Catherine) I'd met a few days before so had a nice chat with them for the hours down to Nelson. They hopped off there but Marieve (a Canadian I'd travelled with before) joined so still a familiar face which was nice! We arrived at our lodge on the edge of the Abel Tasman national park in the evening, and cooked a group meal. After dark I went down to the first part of the main track through the national park with few other girls for some stargazing. I couldn't get a decent picture but it was amazing - it was getting darker as we sat out there so we kept seeing more and more stars.
I had a morning free before picking up the Stray bus again, so walked over to Bob's bay on one of the peninsulas around Picton. I had the whole beach to myself so put on some music and went for a swim! Unfortunately the swim was cut short as I noticed quite a few jellyfish which freaked me out 🙈

12 March 2018

I wanted to end the day with a swim, but by the time I got to the beach it really wasn't nice enough. So I made do with a few mohitos in the local Irish pub instead (all wined out by this point!).
Today I discovered the secret to a perfect Monday: cycling around vineyards in the sun getting slowly sozzled. It was an early start as I got the bus over to Blenheim, and was picked up from there and taken to Renwick. 10.15am saw me in my first vineyard of the day with a wine 101 session, where I got to taste some grapes and learned the best way to taste wine (including spitting it out, shock horror! 😮). From there I pottered around various vineyards (Whitehaven, Wairau River, Bladen and Framingham) including stopping for an excellent lunch accompanied by a nice chat with a Kiwi lady and her son at the next table. I also bumped into Lynn who I met ziplining in Auckland - small world!

11 March 2018

I'm staying in Picton, where the ferry runs to, for 2 nights. I've treated myself to a B&B as a change from the hostels and it's so nice! Pottered down to the seafront (just a 5 min walk) in the evening to get some dinner.
Two weeks on the north island flew by, but it was time for the ferry ride over to the south island. The weather couldn't have been more perfect and the views were incredible! I spent most of the journey right out at the front of the boat taking a ridiculous number of photos :)
Perfect Sunday morning with brunch by the beach (the menu was hilarious, have a look!) and then a lovely swim in the sea 👣

10 March 2018

After travelling solo and meeting lots of new people over the last two weeks, it was lovely to see some familiar faces! Caught up with Rhianne and Tom who both live in Wellington now, and they showed me around. We climbed up Mount Victoria where there were stunning views over the city, then walked along the waterfront, stopping for ice cream and drinks with live music in the sun. Later in the evening before dinner we saw a Pride parade with some amazing singing.
I spent Saturday morning exploring the Te Papa museum in Wellington, which was a mix of natural and social history. There was a great exhibition about the Gallipoli war campaign with 2.4 times larger than life size models of soldiers.

9 March 2018

There was only one way to celebrate finally making it to Wellington - with a drink or three!
We ended up staying at Blue Duck Station 2 days longer than planned, before it was decided it was going to take too long for the road to be safe to get buses out of (there were power cables caught up in the mudslides and everything). The only way for us to get out was to be evacuated by helicopters brought in by the NZ government! We didn't realise at the time as there was no signal or wifi, but our being stranded had made the national news so there were cameras filming us when we landed! Some of the girls I was travelling with were interviewed too which was pretty cool. Bit of a surreal experience in total, from being stranded with no power/technology/hot water for a few days and not knowing when we'd get out, to the excitement of a free helicopter rise with amazing views over the national park. Missed out on trekking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing (though the weather on the day we would have done it was too bad anyway) and an afternoon in Wellington, but something I'll never forget!

7 March 2018

On Wednesday night there was a massive thunderstorm (23cm rain in one night), which we watched from the balcony of our lodge. The next morning we woke to see the devastating effects - hundreds of mudslips blocked the only road out of the station, leaving us stranded with no power and nothing to do other than explore the small way up the road we could get to before it was blocked (with very muddy results...).
It had been raining in the days before so the river was too high for me to kayak (foiled again!) but I did go on a bush safari to see more of Blue Duck Station, which is massive!

6 March 2018

After a bumpy drive through the Tongariro national park, we made it to our accommodation for the next two nights, Blue Duck Station - a remote lodge in the middle of nowhere.
Lake Taupo is the largest lake in New Zealand, and apparently big enough to fit Singapore in (I get these facts from our bus driver so they may be wrong). We stopped in Taupo for an hour, where I had a lovely lunch in the sun. We also stopped further up the shore of the lake for a quick dip.
Next up was a stop to see Huka Falls, a massive set of waterfalls where the Waikato River (usually over 100m across) passes through a gap of about 10m. Water flows through fast enough to fill an Olympic swimming pool in 6 seconds!
The family who hosted us at Kapu Topu lodge are trying to use tourism to boost the local area, as there's lots of poverty and unemployment. One of the things they do is package up leftover hangi food to give to local school kids for lunch, so the next morning we stopped off at the school to deliver the lunches and meet some of the children.

5 March 2018

Spent an afternoon and evening at Kohu Tapu lodge, a Maori cultural experience. Swam in Lake Aniwhenua which was gorgeous (if cold), made a traditional woven bracelet and had an incredible hangi feast (slow cooked in the ground).
There's nothing to cure a hangover like a spa, though the sulphur smell of this particular spa wasn't the easiest to take first thing on a Monday morning! Walked round the geothermal park bit and then chilled in the mud baths and spa with Bev for an hour.

4 March 2018

Rounded off a great day with a sizeable quantity of vodka, including a trip to a very quiet club next to our hostel (probably unsurprising in hindsight given it was midnight on a Sunday evening!).
I couldn't come to New Zealand and not make a trip to Hobbiton, even though my geekish tendencies lie elsewhere (#hogwartsforever). Despite not being a huge fan of the films or books, it was pretty cool to see the set up close and all the attention to detail they've put into it. This is the second set as well - they originally built the set for the Lord of the Rings films, demolished it and then rebuilt it for the Hobbit films (and decided to make this one permanent). It took 2 years to build the second time round! We got a free Hobbiton beer or cider at the end in the Green Dragon inn, which was a nice end to the afternoon 👌
I'd been especially looking forward to tubing in Waitomo caves and wasn't disappointed! We had to wear ridiculous wetsuits and gumboots, and my glasses were taped to my head(!) so I didn't lose them - but apart from that, it was so much fun. We spent 2.5hrs underground with a mixture of climbing over rocks and through narrow passages, wading/swimming through freezing water, and floating along in tubes watching all the glowworms that light up the ceilings of the caves. And at the halfway point we sat on a rock and our guide produced hot squash and chocolate for us to enjoy in "hard rock cafe" 😄 The pics aren't great (in the second one I was just sliding on my front into cold and muddy water... not an attractive look!) but it was definitely my trip highlight so far.

3 March 2018

Rounded off the day with a sunset just up the road from the lodge we're staying in, in the middle of the bush. Saw some bush glowworms on the way back too.
Spent the afternoon in Raglan, a surfing town. Weather not warm enough to brave anything more than paddling (I definitely wasn't brave enough to jump off the bridge!) so had some more amazing ice cream instead.
Stopped off to see the Bridal Veil Falls, a 55m waterfall. Was tempted to swim in the pool at the bottom but put off by the eels!
Up early for the bus this morning, so made the most of it by watching the sunrise too. The clouds weren't really playing ball, but it was still beautiful 💛

2 March 2018

Went for a walk to Cathedral Cove today, a lovely beach that can only be reached by boat or foot. I wanted to kayak but it was too windy, so foot it was! It would have been nice if it was sunnier, but it was a very hot walk up and down lots of hills and steps as it was, so perhaps good that it wasn't any warmer. Didn't make for the best sunbathing though!

1 March 2018

On Thursday I joined the Stray bus, which is the hop on hop off bus I'm using for the rest of my travels. As nice at it was to explore Auckland on my own terms, it's good to have some fellow travellers from now on! We drove to Hahei, which is on the eastern coast of the north island. After checking in at the backpackers lodge, we went to hot water beach. It's hard to describe without sounding really weird - but it's basically a beach where you can dig holes and they fill with hot water, and you sit in them. I was a bit sceptical as the weather wasn't great, and it was super busy with tourists, but it was kind of cool (in a super touristy way). Nothing like getting to know your new travel buddies by sitting in your swimming costume in a puddle of hot water with them, surrounded by other strangers 😏 In the pic with me are Hannah, Harry, Marieve and Madi.

28 February 2018

Rest of the day on the island was spent doing a wine tasting (just the one, as 5 wines before lunchtime left me a bit tipsy... need to build up my stamina before the big tour in a few weeks!) and chilling on the beach. It was very windy and a little overcast but still nice and relaxing - because being on holiday is a tough life!
Went ziplining over vineyards and forests - such beautiful scenery. There were 3 lines, each getting longer and faster. So much fun! Afterwards there was a guided nature walk up to the top. Ecozip (the company I zipped with) are doing a lot to conserve the natural bush habitat and basically built the ziplines to get visitors to come and see the local nature, so it was interesting to hear what they're doing. The ziplining was definitely the most fun bit though!
Up early this morning to get the ferry over to Waiheke Island, 35 mins off the coast of Auckland. Very windy so it was a bumpy ride, but I thought it was fun (other passengers not so much).

27 February 2018

This might be the best ice cream I've ever had. My "server" helped me choose the flavours (basically you get loads of samples until you decide what you want), and then the "chefs" in the kitchen prepared it. There was an amazing one with four layers of chocolate that I was seriously tempted by, but decided to break with tradition and go for NZ flavours - blackberry and martini rosso (because when has something not been made better with alcohol?) and hokey pokey (tongon vanilla and honeycomb). SO GOOD. Also they brought around free chocolate samples and wet wipes as I ate #win
Climbed the harbour bridge this morning with some fab views over the city. Got a free hat to mark this achievement too, as long as I don't mind looking like the world's biggest tourist wearing it (see the picture and you'll get what I mean...). Also got the closest I'll be getting to a bungy jump, as the others in my group jumped from the bridge so I got to watch. If I ever thought I might be tempted, that's definitely made my mind up for me!

26 February 2018

The weather was still gorgeous and my jet lag hadn't kicked in, so I headed up to Mount Eden, the highest volcanic peak in Auckland. A short (but hot!) walk later I got some incredible views over the city.
Auckland is built on volcanoes, and the Domain is a massive park built on a volcanic crater. In the middle is Auckland museum. I wasn't going to go in, as the weather was far too nice to be inside. However something about the war memorial outside (the carved grey thing with water running down it in the first pic) lured me in. I was glad I went - it was an interesting few hours, and so nice to be able to go at my own pace and miss out the boring parts! There was a lovely lady on reception who was surprised I was so perky given my jet lag, and promised to send a search party if she didn't see me come out 😂 The museum itself was part Maori artefacts, part natural history (with a simulation of Auckland having an earthquake that was frankly terrifying) and part memorial to the wars New Zealand has been involved in. After getting my fill of culture for the day, I wandered through some of the rest of the Domain, where they had some cool preparations going on for Chinese New Year (I think).
Exploring Parnell, the neighbourhood I'm staying in. Very cute with a village-y feel to it, even though you can often see the Sky Tower and skyscrapers in the background.
Facing my fear of eating alone, one pancake at a time 👍
Arrived in Auckland and headed straight out exploring! There's a rose garden just down the road from my hotel, which opens onto Taurarua Judges Bay, a tidal lagoon which was lovely and quiet at 7am other than two paddleboarders and the odd jogger (I went back later in the evening and there were lots of swimmers). And there was a rainbow too!

25 February 2018

Made it to Melbourne, just one more flight to go! No idea what time it is here/there/what my body thinks it is, so hitting up the bar anyway. Got to celebrate my first time in Australia! More interesting than my first time in the UAE which consisted solely of endless rounds of security and abusing the free wifi. The flights themselves have been surprisingly ok so far, and I even managed the impossible and got a decent amount of sleep on the long one over from Dubai. Woke up from that to be offered "dinner" - my body had no clue what day or time it was meant to be, but definitely didn't want fish and egg fried rice... I've started to embrace the solo travel life and had a nice chat with a random guy at the bar. Alright he was at least 60, but it's a start!

24 February 2018

Enjoying a glass of bubbly somewhere 40,000 feet in the air #cheers
So I'm finally off! The four months since I booked this trip have flown past, and I can't quite believe I'm here already. Excited doesn't cover it... Not the smoothest of starts (London transport issues + Qantas deciding nut free meals aren't a thing = slightly frazzled Kat) but in my new c'est la vie mode I decided there's no point stressing and just had a cocktail instead :) plus as much breakfast as I could face, given it looks like my nutrition for the next 24 hours will be coming from the copious amounts of chocolate I have stashed in my bag. Oh, and a cheese and pickle sandwich. Gate has just been announced, next stop Melbourne via Dubai!