On the road again

I don't know why, but there are an awful lot of Germans in New Zealand, and I mean an awful lot. If you just assume every tourist that you see is German you will have a staggeringly high success rate, and, like I say, I really don't know why. I noticed it on my first night in New Zealand when, of the three other guests that I spoke to at the hostel, all of them were German. By the time I got to the third I asked about this, and she, like every German I've discussed it with since then, both admitted that it was true and was as surprised to find it to be the case as I was. I know how disappointed by this you will all be, but it seems that this mystery must remain unsolved.

On the 6th of January I arrived on the South Island and picked up a white Toyota Corola. My holiday since that time has been significantly affected by the fact that I can now just drive places.

Obviously I needed to get some tunes for the car, so I stopped by a record store and picked up a copy of Lorde's album. I mean, I'm in New Zealand - it was either that or the Lord of the Rings soundtrack. And they didn't have that. I checked. I also happened to notice The Sunset Tree by The Mountain Goats and, in a fit of nostalgia for my university days, bought it. Fucking waste of twenty dollars, I tell you what.

When you're on your own with a car, there is a terrible temptation to just drive, like, all the time. There's no one else with you getting bored or antsy in the back seat, and the thought required for driving is just enough to occupy the mind but not, on the empty highways of the South Island, enough to tax it. You just cruise along the highway, through mountains and along coasts, looking at the scenery and kind of zoning out. Until, in the middle of fucking nowhere, on this practically empty highway through the mountains, there's a set of traffic lights, and you're not really paying attention and you brake too late and gently rear end the guy in front of you who, fortunately, is also driving a rental so isn't all that angry that you just hit his car, just wants to get your details so you can pay him back if he gets charged for any damage. He was German, by the way, as were the two hitchhikers he'd picked up who were riding with him. My own hitchhiker sampling, by the way, yielded three Germans, two Austrians, and an American. I'm counting the Austrians as German.

Every significant journey I've taken so far seems to have taken at least twice what the Google maps estimate says it will, largely due to the fact that it's difficult to drive fast and without stopping when the road you're driving along is like this:

New Zealand really is set up fantastically for hiking and camping, with the Department of Conservation managing the facilities for both. There are DOC campsites all over the place that will be in beautiful locations and provide, at minimum, toilets and a water supply (potable, if you're lucky) for between free and £3. They do a few fancier and more expensive ones as well, but I rarely had cause to visit those. On the hiking side, practically every five minutes along the road there will be a turn off signposted for some attraction, and if you go down it you'll probably find at least one walking route with an estimated return trip time specified. The big draw for both activities are the Great Walks, which are a set of 9 multi-day hiking routes (or tramping, as they say in NZ) through particularly beautiful scenery of various kinds, with DOC campsites and huts along the way. Sadly, due to time constraints I was unable to do a Great Walk in full, but I did do a little bit of a couple, sampling the coastal charms of the Abel Tasman Track...

...and the alpine magnificence of the Routeburn Track.

I've had pretty decent weather for most of my time here, marred slightly by the wet and windy last couple of days, and a very wet day when I was supposed to be taking a look around glacier country. I did actually make the trip out to view the Franz Josef glacier and ended up getting soaked to the skin. I was not happy.

The low visibility meant that I couldn't even see the glacier very well, but the rain did contribute to the rather impressive waterfalls in the glacier valley.

I made up for the miserablness of my previous glacier viewing experience with a walk to the Rob Roy glacier near Wanaka a couple of days later, which, well...I mean just look at this shit.

After driving across the top, down the west, through the middle, and along the bottom, camping and tramping all the way, I reached Dunedin, where I checked into a hostel and had my first shower in four days (longer if you don't count a bath in a lake). Dunedin is apparently the Edinburgh of the South; considering that Edinburgh is the Athens of the North, I'm not quite sure how that all shakes out in the end. Anyway, from there I took a plane to Auckland and thence to Rarotonga, in the Cook Islands, where it is mostly raining.

Photo Albums

Picton/Nelson
Abel Tasman
Takaka Hill/Golden Bay
Lake Rotorua/Buller Gorge/Tauranga Bay
The West Coast
This is as far as I've gotten with uploading pictures - stupid countries where you don't get complimentary, unlimited WiFi at every establishment as standard have been slowing me down.

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Not Old Zealand

The first day after I arrived in New Zealand, when I went out walking around Auckland, the most obvious thing to me was that the city was a complete ghost town. This hasn't really stopped being the case in my travels so far - it seems that over the Christmas and New Year period kiwis desert the cities en masse and head to the beach. Half the cafes, restaturants, and shops around the place have signs up saying "Closed until Monday 6th January". Taupo was possibly operating at full capacity, but is a pretty tiny place anyway so it wasn't exactly buzzing.

Taupo, for all the town itself has little to recommend it, did have some pretty beautiful scenery nearby. You can get a good couple of days of entertainment out of it, from taking a walk up the river one day...

...to doing the previously mentioned Tongoriro Alpine Crossing the next, apparently the best one day hike in New Zealand. I can believe it.

Wellington seems like a pretty cool place - it's got its own version of Shoreditch, called Cuba Street, filled with trendy little cafes and bars and things, and there's an absolutely fantastic second hand bookstore that I wish I had the time to go through thoroughly, as well as a good number of artsy independant cinemas. However, nice as it as, there isn't really all that much to take pictures of without taking pictures of people on the street, which I am somewhat bashful about, which is why the Wellington album is pretty much entirely shots of the Zealandia wildlife reserve.

Photo Albums

Auckland
Taupo
Tongoriro Alpine Crossing
Wellington
Paekakiriki

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Something something goodbye Asia

As discussed in my previous post, a few days ago I left Asia and I am now in the land of the Kiwis.

After getting the train back from Koh Tao, which was an interesting experience involving a 6 hour delay, I spent Christmas in Bangkok, in what was probably the strangest Christmas season of my life. If you want to find the most Christmassy places in Bangkok, a non-Christian city, you just have to ask yourself - what is Christmas all about? If you answered with Jesus, love, family, goodwill to men, or anything silly like that, you are wrong. The correct answer is, of course, consumerism, which is why the most Christmassy places in Bangkok are the shopping centres.

To be honest, though, it still doesn't work with the season for me. Even if I'd been in New Zealand for Christmas, a country which actually does celebrate it, I don't think I could really get into the Christmas spirit when it's over twenty degrees outside. This was despite the best efforts of the staff at my hostel, who brought the surreality (word?) of Christmas day to its height with their inter-hostel staff dance competition. I pretty much spent the entire Christmas party chatting to a Danish guy and a Belgian guy about how weird everything was.

I left Asia by way of Singapore. I only managed to spend one day looking around the place, but I managed to cover what I like to think is a fair range, from the skyscrapers and modern architecture of the Marina Bay, to the inner city jungle of the Southern Ridges (actual jungle, not being metaphorical here), to the slightly more traditionally Asian area of Little India. I also accidentally spent far too much money on a delicious lunch of Chilli Crab.

I have been enjoying myself in New Zealand so far, and have already seen some pretty spectacular scenery, which I will present photographic evidence of shortly. I'm taking an overnight bus down to Wellington tonight, where I'll be spending a few days before crossing over to the South Island for two weeks of driving and camping. Should be good.

Photo Albums

Train
Bangkok 2
Singapore

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