Sunday, 24 January 2016

They say bad luck comes in three's - bad weather, cancellations and little hope!

So we left Takaka and headed on another Stray-cation towards Marahau - the gateway to the Abel Tasman. We'd heard amazing things about the Abel Tasman - crystal turquoise waters, golden deserted sandy bays and some of New Zealand's best waters for kayaking. So you can imagine how disappointed we were that, due to a cyclone off the coast of northern Australia, New Zealand was in for a cyclone-backlash-hammering in the weather forecasts. It was supposed to hit the next day (our only full day in the Abel Tasman) and it was forecast to last a whole 2 weeks! Cyclone depressions are nasty, they bring torrential rain, strong winds and humidity! We couldn't have chosen a worst week to hop back on our 'Stray-cation', but when you travel you can't predict the weather and sometimes don't have the luxury to wait around for it to get better, so we put on our raincoats and braved it out - at least it wasn't cold! It seems we had used up all our good weather luck on the north Island!

Hopping back on the Stray bus we bumped into Daniel - an English guy who had been with us on the East Bro tour! Turns out he'd be with us until he hopped off at Franz Josef at the end of the week. Our driver for this Stray-cation was Kookie, an Irish guy who was getting citizenship in New Zealand. He was a super chilled-out entertaining driver. Our accommodation at Marahau was superb - we had a double room/cabin for the same price as a dorm bed. Though this Stray-cation we learnt that whatever prices Kookie gave us, you had to add one or two dollars onto the price when you arrived, because it seemed they had upped their prices - typical!

Our first full day at the Abel Tasman was forecast to rain, but when we woke up it was just humid and overcast, so we decided to chance a walk. We hadn't booked a kayak as we didn't want to be in the middle of the ocean if the weather turned bad, and it was a good job we didn't! We set off at 10am to do a 4hr return walk along part of the famous Abel Tasman Coastal Track - a walk which could take you a total of 3-4 days if you camped along the way. We stopped off at idylic little bays along the way and had lunch on a beautiful beach. Even though it was overcast we still glimpsed the sun occasionally and along with it, a hint of those turquoise waters and golden sands. The walk was long but pretty but around 1pm we decided to head back just in case those forecast rain clouds hit. Lucky we did, because exactly 10mins after we returned at exactly 3pm when it was forecast...the rain hit! And boy did it hit! Solid, torrential rain which lasted a good 8-9 hours! The campsite where we were staying was flooded in no time, poor campers came in the evening and tried to pitch their tents in ankle deep most slept in their cars! Needless to say the afternoon was a right off so we all just stayed in our rooms until it was BURGER TIME!

We were scheduled to go down to the Marahau Fat Tui burger hut at 8pm, which apparently had burgers to rival the Ferg Burger (famous burger place in Queenstown). Burgers the size of your head we were told - and boy did they live up to it! The only problem was the do we get there we ask? - already soaked through just by walking to the kitchen area. Low and behold, along came knight in shining armour, Kookie, in his mighty orange Stray Bus! The bugger had decided he couldn't let us all walk down in the rain (which by now had turned into a thunder storm), especially as the only place to eat in Fat Tui's was outside, so we would have to takeaway. We hopped on the bus and he drove us down the road where we awaited our freshly cooked huuuuuge cheeseburgers and chips (I had to get a fried pineapple ring for dessert too) and then all hopped back on and he drove us back to eat them. And they were huge! Homemade patties and bun - all the size of a small head! Yum! Perfect way to end a rainy day.

The next day we left at 8.30am to Westport, and it rained from 8am, until we got to Westport at around 3pm. We did a short walk along the coast while waiting for the surfers and our check-in time at the hostel. We saw seals and had a great time chatting, getting to know some more people on our bus. That evening some people went on a brewery tour but most of us decided to just chill in the really nice hostel and get to know each other. Our good friends on this bus became Zuzanna from the Czech Republic, Verena; Germany, Sergei; USA, Lockie; Australia, Daniel; UK, Caoimhe and Blaithnaid; Ireland, and of course Kookie our driver!

The next day we were packed and gone by 7am, as our drive down to Franz Josef was a long one. We made a morning stop, for a river walk, while we waited for our bone carvers, where it tipped it down with rain halfway through - damn you Bone Carvers! Then we made another stop at the Punaikaiki Rocks (Pancake rocks) yup you guessed it - they look like pancakes! They are pretty damn awesome and there are some blowholes but even though the weather wasn't great, the sea wasn't rough enough to make them proper blow-holes! We then went through to Greymouth, where we had a stop for 2 hours?! for no reason (well some more bone carvers), it was wet and horrible so other than going to Warehouse to get Pierrick a much needed raincoat, we just sat in MacDonalds and used their WiFi, as there is nothing to do in Greymouth! Then we stopped for another break in Hokitika where we said goodbye to Verena as she was staying to be an Au Pair for a while. Then we eventually made our way to Franz Josef!

Now, at Franz Josef Glacier we had booked an Ice Explorer activity as this, along with Fox Glacier, are two of the fastest receding and easily accessible glaciers in the world and New Zealand. They are also the most unique Glaciers in the world, being two of the only three Glaciers in the world bound by rainforest and coastline. So of course, most of us wanted to see these babies and climb on them! So we checked into the glacier heli-hike company and were given a talk about our heli-hike - but they could only give us a 50/50 chance of going. Basically, if the glacier is covered in cloud, it's deemed unsafe for the helicopters to land. So far they had called off 5 days of their tours, and it seemed our luck wasn't great, as there wasn't a great chance it would be clear tomorrow morning. We got to the hostel we were staying at - the rainforest retreat and their pizza deal (all you can eat pizza - it keeps coming til you say stop), was full - so no one could have that! (Bloody Kiwi Experience taking all the spaces!) Another piece of bad luck had struck! That evening we all had a few drinks in the Rainforest retreat bar where we were staying and the guys Lockie and Sergei had decided to dress as ladies that night, so that was pretty entertaining and they were very convincing!

The next morning our Ice Explorer was scheduled for 8.45am so we awoke with fresh hopes - we had all heard a helicopter take off this morning and the sky was semi-clear! Plus the 8am group we hadn't seen come back yet - that had to mean they had taken off didn't it? Nope. We were so wrong. Upon entering the building a girl regretted to inform us that all of the mornings tours had been cancelled, the next tour was the afternoon slots and it wasn't yet confirmed if they were cancelled. Our best bet? To try and nab a spot on the afternoon slots. We got to the front desk...all the afternoon slots were full - gahhhhh! So we got put on the wait list and had to wait around until we were told someone wasn't showing up - fat chance! But at 10am we were told two spaces were available for the midday tour - yay! We then had to wait around until midday to see whether it would go ahead, but the clouds were beginning to hide the glacier, and rain was forecast for later that day, which meant our hopes were slimming. We were told that the pilots needed a four hour window of good weather to be able to take off, so we basically knew it would be cancelled but had to wait until 11.55am to be told, yep, all the afternoon ones were being cancelled and they would probably be cancelling for the next 5 there wasn't even a chance we could stay longer to try to do it. So, bad luck strikes again!

The only good thing was that we have a voucher that is valid for one year, so we can come back at anytime and do it, the only bad thing was that we had wasted two nights of expensive accommodation and would have to waste another two to come back someday and do it....grrrr. We will have to make sure we pick two awesome sunny days!

So the rest of the day we just chilled, sat in the hostel hot tub (the largest one in New Zealand), and then went for drinks with the crew again in the evening. It was Daniels last evening with us so I had challenged him to, during his time in New Zealand A. grow a beard for the ladies, B. Do a skydive and C. a canyon swing - just to challenge himself to something daring and new - so how's it going so far Daniel?! Still got that beard I hope for people like 'Big nipples' to swoon over?! haha. We also all debated over the two Hong Kongese people who had boarded our bus in Greymouth as to whether one was a male or a's to be confirmed!

The next day was another early morning for our journey down to Wanaka. It was also me and Pierrick's anniversary! We said our goodbyes to Daniel and headed to Matheson Lake (Mirror lake) where we did a nice morning walk before the rain set in. However the clouds hid the amazing snow-capped mountains that were supposed to be mirrored in the lake - boo. We were also supposed to stop for lunch at a lovely beach - weather said no. Also sandfly swarm said no - I'm going to eat you all alive!

So instead we had lunch on the bus and when the weather cleared up, went for a walk to the blue pools in the Haarst Valley within Mount Aspiring National Park. They really were blue!

Then we hit up Wanaka - our final destination as we were hopping off the bus here. We had one more thing that we all really wanted to do - a boat cruise round Lake Wanaka, watching the sunset, with 3 free drinks and a BBQ...but guess what?! It was too windy, so they cancelled it - GAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!  

So instead we all just had the BBQ which was pretty shit - a cold potato, salad and a tiny burger and one sausage, oh and a free drink - all for $12! Never again Base Hostels - you really aren't that great! The night was good but it wasn't the party that everyone wanted - in fact it was dead in the bar, so we said our goodbyes around 11pm.

We had a skydive booked for Wanaka but again the weather forecast was shit, and we had paid alot for the view so there's no point doing it when it's cloudy, so that's another thing we'd have to come back and do - grrrr! Instead we just walked around Wanaka for a couple of days, biding time until our next WWOOFing place in Roxburgh, Central Otago on Monday. We had a fantastic curry for our belated anniversary meal and we spent one night and one day in Cromwell, where our host Fay, would pick us up. The hostel in Cromwell was one of the best I have ever stayed in - an old converted medical centre, it was a small and cosy hostel. During the day in Cromwell we went for a walk down to the heritage centre, the lake and the town centre - there really isn't much to do in Cromwell! Then we met Fay. Our bad weather lasted well into the next week, but it gets better, and we do eventually get to do at least one of our activities while WWOOFing, with the prospects of some casual work to save a few pennies - with bad luck comes good they say? Hopefully that will be my next blog post!

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Takaka and the Golden Bay

Upon meeting Abbie and little Pippa, her 2 year old daughter we were taken back to the farm where we were made to feel at home and had our first lush homecooked meal - Spag bol! The meals with Abbie and Travis were amazing as well, lots of curry, pasta, roasts, etc. We met Travis after he had finished milking the cows and also met a friend of theirs who came over for dinner.

We started work the next day and really we didn't work much over the next week and a half! We did around 2 hours everyday and had two days off to explore the area. Our main job was painting a bedroom and a hallway as Abbie was expecting another baby in March so it was in preparation for that. The spare room was being converted into a baby room. We had to strip the wallpaper and then paint over with an undercoat and 2 coats of paint. We got the undercoat finished in the first day and then we just went for a walk in the afternoon. The next day we had off to go into Takaka and we met the New Zealand Wizard, or Gandalf as he is known. He's a total hippy guy who is an ex cop and decided one day that he didn't want to be in the system any more and so just smokes and became a Wizard, and does everything he can to promote how we are being screwed by the governments etc. It's actually a very cool guy.

That evening we were invited along to a BBQ at Abbie's Parents friends house which was right on Pohara beach front and the BBQ was amazing - Lamb and pork chops, steak, sausages, burgers...!

Other days we went for walks, Abbie's Parents and their friends came over and they took us Salmon Fishing at the Anatoki Salmon farm down the road. Bait and fishing rod is free and each fish you catch is around $22 then you can choose to have it filleted, smoked or into Sashimi. As it was a beautiful day the place was rammed so it was tricky trying to catch any fish. But patience paid off as after half an hour or so Pierrick managed to catch the first one! Then he chucked the rod back in without thinking he'd get anything, just as a way of passing time, and 5mins later, he had another one! So this time I said I would kill it instead of Abbie's dad. We then got one smoked in basil and garlic to take home and one Sashimi for lunch and it only cost us $22! It was amazing!

We also spent one very hot afternoon down by their private piece of river and Travis brought down the tubes and after taking ages to get used to how cold the water was, we tubed down the river.

Travis also took us out one evening to see the cows being milked. Obviously with 700 cows its not by hand so he showed us the milking shed, how they round up the cows, how they are milked (by a rotating 52 hold milking platform) and how it all worked, where the milk goes after etc. It was super interesting! He also took us down to see the pigs which they kept for meat and their Kune Kune (Koo-nay) pet pig Smudge who looks a bit like Pumba from the Lion King.

We finished the painting on the Tuesday and so after that our chores were a little bit of cleaning here and there, windows and skirting boards, doors, kitchen and bathrooms. On the following thursday Abbie took us out sightseeing to the Golden Bay and Farewell Spit which was really nice of her. She took us up to Travis parents farm, into Collingwood and up to the Spit then we went for pie and a famous homebrewed Cider at the Mussel Inn.

Friday Abbie's Parents were coming to stay so we had to leave their house and luckily Travis's brother needed us to look after their pets and housesit while they were away for the weekend which suited us fine! We got to look after their two young kittens and dog and just had to hoover the house but basically they said help yourself to food and enjoy the hot tub! Which we did! Lol

On the Saturday was the annual Takaka Agricultural and Pastural show which is basically the event of the year and a farmers convention plus fairground for the kids so we went to check it out and walked into Takaka one last time before we were due to leave. We said our goodbyes to the Wizard!

On Sunday it was time to leave Golden Bay and Abbie's Parents kindly gave us a lift back to Motueka which is where we would pick up the Stray bus to the Abel Tasman National Park that afternoon. It had been another wonderful WWOOFing experience and we hope it continues!

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Nelson - the centre of New Zealand!

So we left Picton the next day (5th Jan) and caught the Stray bus to Nelson. We were annoyed as the head office had told us the bus was full to take us to the Abel Tasman but it actually had space for us but we had now reserved accommodation for 2 nights until they said the next available bus was so we had ton continue with our plan.

On the way to Nelson our bus stopped at a Vineyard in the fanous Marlborough wine region and we did some free wine tasting which was a nice surprise! Then continued on to Nelson where we checked into our not so great hostel but it would do. We had then arranged to meet with a friend we had first met in Australia when we were working in Corrigin. Ivana the Serbian-Swede, with her Aussie/Kiwi boyfriend. So we met at a bar and had a really nice afternoon catching up with them.

The next day we had a full day to play with so after being locked out of our hostel kitchen until midday (as they were cleaning it but it was a bit of an inconvenience as we couldn't have breakfast!) We had lunch and then made off on a short hike up to the geographical centre of New Zealand which is also a good view point for the city. We then decided to walk to Tahunanui beach (ta-hoo-na-noo-ee) which was a good 45min walk! We then just spent the afternoon there on the Tasman Bay.

The next day we were due to get picked up by our Stray Bus to go to Marahau in the Abel Tasman however there was a big summer storm due with flood warnings so we decided last minute to cancel this and instead head up early to Takaka where we had planned some WWOOFING on a 700 cow Dairy Farm. We would just be doing some painting of rooms and gardening but would also get an insight into a working dairy farm which was cool. Plus Pierrick really wanted to go to Takaka to meet the famous Wizard or Gandalf as everyone knew him who was living in this hippy town. So it seemed like the perfect place to WWOOF for a bit and see the area before heading back with the Stray bus to the Abel Tasman when the weather was better.

So we cancelled our Stray Bus and booked a bus to Takaka for that afternoon, informed our host we were on our way. Before we set off we did a little shopping as we needed lunch food as they provided breakfast and dinner but no lunch and we went to burger king for a value meal - well Pierrick did, and I happened to bump into Dennis - a guy who I had volunteered with at SAELaos back in my earlier travels! It was totally random to be in the same place at the same time, 3 years later! So we had a quick catch up before we had to leave and then after saying goodbye and hopefully to see him again, we set foot over the Takaka hills at 3pm to our next WWOOFING experience!

Monday, 4 January 2016

Wellington, NYE and off to the South Island!

Our journey down to Wellington was around 6 hours, we stopped on the way at a couple of cafes, a children's play park (it was the most awesome playpark ever - hamster wheels, ziplines, massive slides, tons of swinging tires etc, I think all the adults were like, why are all these backpackers on our children's play park?!) but it was entertaining!
We also stopped in a town where it was famous to do a Gum Boot competition, where you see who can throw it the furthest (gum boots are Wellies for us). Lars from the Netherlands won it and it was a Jaeger Bomb (a shot) tonight from Possum our driver. Oh we also stopped for a bus photo op on a tank outside the army museum!

When we arrived in Wellington we checked into the hostel we would be staying in until 4th Jan and then just went off on a wander with Roberto and Daniele (Daniel) both from Italy. Our hostel provided a light meal each evening for free but Possum had told us the wrong time and so it had finished when we got back but instead we all cooked and then went to get ready for our goodbye leaving drinks with Possum as she and a few others were continuing on to the south island. The evening was top notch, it was held at our hostel's bar Blend, next door; there were several games of beer pong, we won the bar wars against the G Adventures bus, and lots of dancing on tables - best backpacker bar in New Zealand so far!

The next day was a little hungover but us and Roberto decided to check out the Te Papa museum, apparently one of the best in the country, it was OK but I'm not a big museum person, the highlight was the earthquake simulator - as Wellington is on a massive fault line and there's small earthquakes/tremors almost every week in some parts of the city.

Evenings were mostly spent playing cards and watching movies plus our nightly free meals which were small but tasty and free so we weren't complaining. Things like lasagne, Shepard's pie, curry etc.

With the rest of the group who were staying until after new years - Lars, Vito, Stijn, Roberto, Hester, and two newbies who were in our room Laura and JJ both from the Netherlands - we went up Mount Victoria for a 360 view of Wellington - its actually a very small city! Then on the way down we went to the beach at Oriental Bay for the rest of the day.

We also another take took the cable car up to the botanical gardens and walked back to the city.

And in the new year me and Pierrick went to the Weta Studios which is where they made props for movies such as Avatar, Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit etc. And the next few days it was raining so we just stayed in.

New Years Eve we went to the bar next door with a big group of us, re-met Guillaume from the Coromandel, met Alexia and Fletcher (Argentinian and Kiwi), and we partied the night away at a Florescent Party. Alexia came 2nd in a bar wars so she got a $20 bar tab woo! Then at midnight we went to watch the fireworks at the Harbour, which were the shittiest fireworks I have ever seen, even bonfire night fireworks at someone's house would be better than these were - you could tell they had spent $26 million on changing their flag this year so left no budget for fireworks!! I then met Chelsea, an old school friend who was here which is so strange! So after the rubbish display everyone decided to go to another bar which was an error!! As it was relatively quiet in Blend Bar but elsewhere it was packed and one in one out, so we ended up in a really expensive shit place that no one really liked so at 2.30am we all decided the best place to be was McDonalds!! So we called it a night. New years day was just a write off as I was soooo hungover, as were a few other people. We went to burger king in the evening but that's about it! Lol

Then it was time to say goodbye to most people between the 1st and the 3rd. As they were all off to the south island!

We departed on the 4th on the 2.30pm ferry. The crossing over the Cook straits is one of the most dangerous crossings in the world due to the wind it can get from the south island (Wellington is one of the windiest cities in the world). What happens is the wind from the Tasman sea, hits the mountains in the south making it super cold and the first place it hits on its way up is the cook straits and Wellington. Some days wind speed can get up to over 150km hr!

That day was a little windy but it was super choppy on the seas so Pierrick got quite sea sick. It was a 3hour crossing so not a very quick one either but it was beautiful as it takes you through the Marlborough and Charlotte Sounds before stopping in Picton.

We spent one night in Picton, nothing amazing there really just a small town ferry port. We would try and do the Marlborough and Charlotte Sounds when we come back around that way. As for now it was off to Nelson and the Abel Tasman National Park!