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Down UnderNew Zealand with Parents 1

On 23 February 2004 from Queenstown, NZ | comments closed

I just noticed I have not updated my website for the last two weeks, but it seems a lot longer, so much has happened since. I am currently travelling with my parents and since they want to see all of New Zealand in 3 weeks, days tend to be pretty filled with driving, sightseeing and hiking.

The 1st day I picked up my parents and sister from the airport and we explored the city centre of Auckland. The 2nd day we went to the War Memorial Museum and drove up to the Bay of Islands, where we made a cruise on the 3rd day, exploring Russell and Waitangi afterwards. The 4th day we went to see some huge Kauri trees, before driving back to Auckland. On the 5th day we drove through the Coromandel peninsula to Wangamata, riding in a crazy homemade railway and visiting a beautiful beach on the way. The 6th day we went to Rotorua, where we saw lots of geothermal activity (geysers and mud pools), and had a Maori concert and hangi in the evening. The 7th day we visited another geothermal area and drove on to Whakapapa Village in Tongariro National Park. The planned hike was cut short by the rest of the family since it started raining, but I still hiked for 3 hours, mainly because I took the wrong path at a crossing. On the 8th day we had to get back to Wellington to catch the ferry, but all the roads on the West Coast were closed because of the worst rainfall in a century, so we had to take a detour and drove more than 550 km in one day, arriving at the ferry only half an hour before final check-in. The receptionist at the Grand Chateau Tongariro said we would be very lucky to get to Wellington that day. Well, we made our own luck. In total we drove about 1950 km in 7 days on the North Island.

The 9th day we woke up in Picton on the South Island and hiked for 3 hours with views of Queen Charlotte Sound. On the 10th day we drove to Marahau, where we hiked for 3 hours in Abel Tasman National Park, getting there and away by watertaxi. On the 11th day we drove to Hokitika, just stopping for pancake rocks and a recreated gold mining town on the way. The 12th day we went to the Franz Jozef Glacier, but did not even get out of the car to see it, because it was raining cats and dogs and very windy. We did get to see the Fox Glacier, but relaxed inside for the rest of the day. On the 13th day the weather was a lot better and after a visit to Matheson Lake we drove back to Franz Jozef Glacier and got to see it after all. From there we went to Wanaka, stopping for a few waterfalls along the way. On the 14th day (today) we hiked for 3 hours in Wanaka with picture postcard views of Lake Wanaka. In the afternoon we drove to Queenstown, where we are trying to figure out which activities to do.

Overall the last 14 days were pretty intensive, with lots of driving through this beautiful country. We had all some really nice sunny weather in the beginning, lots of rain on the bottom of the North Island and at the glaciers, but great weather here as well. But I guess a country with lots of sun would not have the Lord of the Rings landscapes that New Zealand has, so a bit of rain is inevitable.

Down UnderArrived in New Zealand

On 9 February 2004 from Auckland, New Zealand | comments closed

After a weekend where almost everything had to go wrong the first attempt, it seems that things are better after arriving in Auckland, New Zealand. But let me start at the beginning. When I missed my bus to Sydney on Saturday morning, I booked another bus later that day straight away and spent the day reading ‘The Age’ (Melbourne’s newspaper) and looking for waterproof pants in half a dozen outdoor stores. I could not find what I was looking for however, so I am going to give it another try here in Auckland tomorrow. According to the two German guys in my room, outdoor stuff is cheaper in New Zealand anyway.

I arrived Sydney on Sunday morning at 7.30 after getting a little bit of sleep during the 11,5-hour bus ride. I was not feeling too tired though, so after breakfast at the hostel I took the ferry to Manly, a beach suburb on the other side of the harbour. From Manly a 10km scenic walkway starts which I walked all the way to the end, passing some nice secluded beaches and getting great views of the Sydney harbour. I went back to my hostel by bus, ferry and train. In the evening I had to burn all my photos on CD, since my 512MB CompactFlash card was almost full and I wanted to have an empty card before arriving in New Zealand. So my last night in Sydney I went to half a dozen internet cafes before I found one that offered CD-burning. But there I wasted at least one hour, because as soon as I had uploaded all my photos, the computer would crash and I had to start all over again. Another first attempt that went wrong. Sometimes I really regret not having brought a laptop, but I am glad I did not when I have to walk with all my bags. Anyway, I found another internet cafe with a CD-burner, and I managed to burn them all on CD twice (backups are essential after all).

On Monday morning I managed to get to the airport in Sydney in time for my flight, but at checkin I was told the flight was very full and I might not be able to get on. I was put on standby and had to wait in the checkin area until half an hour before departure. Another first attempt that went wrong. At least I got a 5 euro voucher for food, so I had a small breakfast at the airport, pretty nice since I left my hostel too early to get breakfast there. Half an hour before departure it was pretty chaotic at the standby counter, but after a while I heard I was on a priority list and was able to get on the Qantas flight (others were booked on an Air New Zealand flight or had to wait for 2 hours till the next flight). I was on a priority list because I showed my British Airways frequent flyer card upon checkin, so even if I do not get enough miles for a free flight, I do get priority when a flight is full. And since nowadays you can apply for almost every frequent flyer card for free on the internet, why not collect miles when flying with flag carriers? There are really only benefits to collecting miles, even for non-frequent flyers. Just make sure you only use one card for each alliance (Star Alliance, OneWorld, SkyTeam), otherwise you end up like me, having collected enough miles for a free flight, but not able to get it because the miles are spread on 3 different cards from Star Alliance (Lufthansa, Air Canada, SAS). Clear case of a luxury problem.

The Qantas flight to Auckland was pretty good, aside from a little turbulence. And I think I had one of the best airplane lunches ever: chicken with rice (maybe that is why), salad, chocolate pudding and Bundaberg rum with Coke 😉
I was already warned about the airport in Auckland by a backpacker magazine, and they were right, the airport just cannot handle all the traffic. After landing, it took more than 1 hour to get to the terminal by bus, clear immigration, collect luggage, and clear customs. Mainly because the queues before immigration were really long, and I just had to laugh when the immigration officer looked at my ticket, noticed that I left from Amsterdam, and asked if I brought any pot with me. That really is the first thing people think about when they hear Amsterdam.

After I checked in at the Fat Camel hostel in Auckland (some hostel names are pretty funny), it was about 6 PM and all the shops just closed, so I was not able to do any shopping. I hope I find some time in the morning, before I have to go to the airport to pick up my parents and sister. They are coming to New Zealand for 3 weeks and want to see the entire country in that time, so I reckon the next 3 weeks are going to be quite intensive, driving at least 200km a day, but also a lot of fun. As a consequence of the hectic shedule, I probably will not be able to frequently update this website for the next 3 weeks. Then again, who cares, right?

One more thing: at the moment New Zealand is GMT +13, so there are 12 hours of time difference with mainland Western Europe. This is almost the furthest one could get away from Europe; any further, and one would be going back. And no, I am not digging a hole to find a shorter way 😉

Down UnderFirst Bus Cancelled, Second Missed

On 7 February 2004 from Melbourne, VIC | comments closed

I had it all planned out: get back to Melbourne by train after work on Friday, get to Sydney on a tour via the Snowy Mountains and Canberra over the weekend, and fly to Auckland on Monday. Then the tour company called me on Friday that the tour was cancelled because there were not enough participants. So I changed my plans, deciding not to go to the Snowy Mountains and Canberra now, and I booked a ticket on a direct Greyhound bus. But on Friday evening a Dutch girl at the hostel had her birthday, we went out with a group of people, I had a few drinks and I slept through my alarm clock this morning. When I woke up in shock I called the bus company only to find out that the ticket was non-refundable, so that was 26 euro wasted. Oh well, I booked again on an overnight bus tonight, saving one night accommodation expenses. And 26 euro from Melbourne to Sydney is actually really cheap, considering it is a 12-hour bus ride.

Down UnderWorking Holiday

On 5 February 2004 from Ballarat, VIC | comments closed

One of the reasons for me to go to Australia was the fact that I could obtain a working holiday visa, making it possible to stay for a year and supplement travel funds by working. Since I have only been travelling for the first 9 weeks of my trip, I figured it would be great to work for a few weeks before going to New Zealand. So for the last two weeks I have been doing some boring repetitive factory work in shifts from 7 to 12 hours. Not so fun, but at least I am making some decent money now, instead of just spending money. I do have to get a better job later on though. That is why I will probably be spending 2-3 months in Perth when I return from New Zealand. The more professional jobs require at least 2 months commitment and I have no travel plans at that time. Also it will be good to settle down after having travelled through New Zealand for 6-7 weeks.