Monthly Archives: June 2014

Our 9 favourite things about New Zealand

We’ve spent five and a half months travelling and working around New Zealand, been to both islands twice and loved every minute of it! Here is a quick list, off the top of our heads, of why we’ve loved it:

1. It’s so beautiful
There are mountains everywhere! And incredible lakes, beaches, forests, rivers, waterfalls, gorges. The whole country is just stunning.

2. It’s not too big and not too small
You can get from one end to the other fairly easily and it’s packed with good stuff to see!

3. The accent

4. There’s no one here!
Well hardly anyone, relatively speaking. There are only 4ish million people in New Zealand, compared to the UK’s 63 million. We have been to so many beautiful and interesting places where we are the only ones there.

5. The New Zealand Frenzy Guidebook
This book is the most awesome guide book ever. It’s full of free, off the beaten track type activities and we have used it everywhere we have been.

6. Helpx
We’ve seen and done things and met people we’d never have experienced otherwise; including sheep shearing, wall building, motorbike riding, cow mustering, fruit picking and of course, scrubbing!

7. The DoC
Everywhere you go, in the towns or in the middle of nowhere, you can usually rely on there being a green and yellow Department of Conservation sign leading to a walk, waterfall, tramp, view or something awesome.

8. It’s actually Middle Earth
Excluding a few towers and citadels, New Zealand looks pretty much exactly like it does in the Trilogy. We should know, we’ve been to ALOT of film locations.

9. The people
People here are so welcoming, laid back and nice. Strangers say hello to you in the street (in a nice way, not a crazy way).

New Zealand is the best!

New Zealand is the best!

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Bye bye New Zealand

For 2 years we’ve been planning our epic trip to New Zealand, and tomorrow we say goodbye. Nooooooo! We were originally planning 10 months here, and although we’ve ended up shortening that and adding lots of Asian fun at the beginning and a USA road trip at the end, NZ still seemed like the main destination for us. So it seems weird and sad to be leaving, even though we still have 7 exciting weeks left.

Cooking up a good feed for our anniversary

Cooking up a good feed for our anniversary

We’ve had a brilliant last week here though, which included celebrating our first wedding anniversary in a little farm cottage in the countryside near Waimate. It was one of my favourite houses we’ve seen here (I still can’t quite get my head around wooden architecture) and we had a lovely few days chilling out together, eating quality cheese and watching our wedding video. We are are definitely very lucky to still be on our honeymoon!

My favourite house in Kiwiland

My favourite house in Kiwiland

Year long honeymoons are the best!

Year long honeymoons are the best!

After leaving Waimate and saying hello to the resident wallabies, we spent a night in Timaru, before driving to the Banks Peninsula and staying in the very French influenced town of Akaroa. The town is in an extinct volcano and has a beautiful harbour, and some lovely little streets and shops to wander around.

Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula

Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula

We did some easy walks and took a scenic drive around the peninsula and along the crater ridge which had some spectacular views.

Driving around the rim of the extinct volcano

Driving around the rim of the extinct volcano

We even treated ourselves to some beersies to watch the sunset with.

An Akaroa sunset

An Akaroa sunset

We are spending our last night in New Zealand in Christchurch with Martine and Tim, some very distant relatives who very kindly put us up twice during our stay. And tomorrow we fly to Fiji to enjoy some sunshine, snorkelling and turning 29…!

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Are we winding down?

After leaving Mangamahu, with all the animals still alive, we drove west towards the small town of Stratford. It was a cute, slightly odd little place – all the streets are named after Shakespeare characters, and the centrepiece is New Zealand’s only glockenspiel clock tower. A few times a day, the clock tower puts on a show as wooden puppets emerge and a voiceover reads out some lines from Romeo and Juliet. We were the only audience for the 7pm. Cultural?

Two households, both in the Stratford glockenspiel

Two households, both in the Stratford glockenspiel

Why we were there...

Why we were there…

The reason we were there though was to see Mount Taranaki, an amazing dome shaped volcano that dominates the horizon… When it decides to emerge from the clouds. It shoots up from the flat land all around it and looks amazing, even gracing the cover of our Lonely Planet, but it attracts some wild weather too. We didn’t see it the first couple of days, and instead made do with some tramping around the forest at its base to see some waterfalls. In the afternoon we checked out a nearby nature reserve, a “mainland island” where the area has been cleared of pests to give the bush a chance to thrive. It was a very lush area with a nice loop around a lake, and the Jurassic Park style security gates were cool too.

There should be a mountain in this picture

There should be a mountain in this picture

Dawson's Falls, the Creek is just out of shot

Dawson’s Falls, the Creek is just out of shot

Heading into Isla Nublar?

Heading into Isla Nublar?

On the day we left, it was obviously a glorious sunny day and the mountain was standing out in all it’s snow capped glory, so we took a lot of photos and then headed east. Following some excellent advice from our Wellington helpx hosts, we took a circuitous rather then straight route up to Auckland and headed off on the Forgotten World Highway.

The view on our last morning

The view on our last morning

There he is!

There he is!

Bye bye Taranaki

Bye bye Taranaki

A crazy detour

A crazy detour

Basically, it’s a winding and occasionally unsealed road from Stratford going northeast, through some spectacular farming country and ridges with 360 views from Taranaki to Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe. It was an awesome drive, and on the way we stopped in the tiny town of Whangamomona. There was a pub, and whilst we were having a cup of tea a man rode up on his horse, without a saddle, for drink. And in the late 80s, the town declared itself a republic and you can get a passport stamp and t-shirts. Bizarre. Just after the town, you drive through a single lane tunnel of around 100 metres, that looks exactly like it must have done when the pioneers first cut through it with pick axes.

The Republic of Whangamomona

The Republic of Whangamomona

One lane tunnel

One lane tunnel

For our last night of freedom we stayed in the town of Huntly, that reminded us a lot of Kawerau. You can see why some places aren’t really on the tourist trail – however the $6 banquet of fish, sausage, burger and chips wasn’t too bad.

With our last few days on the North Island we spent them helpxing in west Auckland. We lived with Karen and another helpxer, Paul, and worked on the Ranui community garden for a few days. It was a nice and chilled out place to work, with great food too! Karen’s grandson Darius nicknamed me Fireman Sam, so I was pretty pleased with the impression I made! It was also good chatting with Paul, who has only just arrived in New Zealand with a whole year ahead of him. He’s planning to do the Te Arorea Walkway, from the Cape to Bluff which will take about 5 months. Bon chance, froggyhiker! It does make us feel like our time here is winding down though.

Community garden selfie

Community garden selfie

Way back in Wanaka, we booked some tickets to see England play the All-Blacks in Dunedin. This always seemed like months away, but after leaving Karen’s place we said goodbye to the North Island (for now) and flew South to Dunedin. We’d had a wee panic with accommodation (apparently international rugby matches are fairly popular) but fortunately got contacted by a helpx host just north of the city. So, we picked up our final hire car and drove off into the wilds of Otago, to our final helpx with Duncan, Georgie and 16 month old Maggie. These guys bought their farm just a couple of months ago, so there were loads of jobs for us to get into!

Our last helpx cottage

Our last helpx cottage

After a full days work of breaking up a wall and moving rocks, which just felt wrong after the wall I built in Matakana, we had a day off for the rugby. There was a really nice atmosphere in the city, with fans in the black and the white hanging out and drinking together. We had a few beersies in the Octagon and then headed off to the stadium, and were seriously glad of the multiple layers we were wearing. Tis some bleddy cold compared to the north! Not sure how the shirtless England fans with the St George’s Cross body paint survived.

Chilling in the Forsyth Barr Stadium, cold!

Chilling in the Forsyth Barr Stadium, cold!

The Second Test

The Second Test

The game was brilliant, England were so unlucky to only lose by a point but the whole experience was just fantastic. I can’t decide what the highlight was – seeing the Haka, England’s first try going down right in front of us, or seeing a streaker get absolutely smashed by a flying steward. Seriously, search on YouTube for it – they were talking about the tackle on the news for days afterwards.

The Haka

The Haka

The streaker heads home

The streaker heads home

Richie pleased with the score

Richie pleased with the score

Since then we’ve done some more work on the farm, from making apple pie and crumble (Laura), to moving more rocks and gardening (me). But we have been having a really good time here, living it up and watching World Cup highlights and filling out my wall chart in our own cottage (all the games are very early morning here), and exploring the farm and playing with Maggie. I can now list quad bike and truck driving on my CV, but not yet reversing with a trailer. The landscape is amazing, and this has been a great final helpx.

Chilly on the farm

Chilly on the farm

My ride

My ride

Earning our keep

Earning our keep

Less than two months left of the gap yah now, and while it sort of feels like we’re winding down a bit, writing this has made me realise that we are still doing awesome stuff pretty much everyday. New Zealand is sweet as bro, sweet as.

World Cup wall chart!

World Cup wall chart!

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More fun on the farm

After cruising over to the east coast we spent a lovely few days in sunny Napier. We didn’t do too much, other than admire all the Art Deco buildings which the city is famous for. The city was almost completely destroyed in an earthquake in 1931 and were rebuilt in the most popular Art Deco style of the time.

Art Deco in Napier

Art Deco in Napier

Self-guided touring in Hawkes Bay

Self-guided touring in Hawkes Bay

We don’t know much about architecture (being too tight to pay for a guided tour), but they were nice to look at! We also enjoyed a slightly less cultural visit to see the new X-Men movie.

After Napier we headed South via the towns of Hastings and Havelock North, where we did a a pretty cool walk up a really windy Te Mata Peak. We had lovely views over some of Hawkes’s Bay mountains, villages and vineyards and it was worth the 2 hour slog up the steep ridge which Sam had to talk me into!

Redwood trees on the way to Te Mata peak

Redwood trees on the way to Te Mata peak

At the top of Te Mata peak

At the top of Te Mata peak

We then continued South, to a really rural part of the North Island, which we probably never would have visited, apart from the fact that we had organised another helpx job with a farming family, South of Waipukurau. Sam had been a little dubious about this one, because the family had four little children under four years old. Scary!!

But they were so lovely and we had absolutely the most fantastic week! Ru and Fleur run an 1100 acre family farm, raising cattle, sheep and horses. I’m definitely not the best when it comes to animals, but I think our farm experiences here have been some of my favourite weeks of our trip. Ru spent loads of time taking us around the farm, showing us the animals and explaining how the farm works. On one day he taught us to ride his massive motorbike (I was terrible), but Sam managed to ride all over the farm and even mustered a field of cows on it!

Easy rider mustering cattle

Easy rider mustering cattle

We also watched sheep being pregnancy tested and had a go at sheep shearing, which was a bit scary as I was terrified of stabbing the poor thing and creating some sort of sheep blood bath. But he seemed happy, if a bit colder, in the end.

Waiting to be shorn

Waiting to be shorn

Shaun the Sheep

Shaun the Sheep

After all of that, playing with the four kids was easy! They were so cute and I got to play ALOT of princess, crocodile and dragon themed imagination games. Easiest week of work ever!

Us and the flock

Us and the flock

Ono one afternoon went to visit a fairly nondescript hill, which claims to be the longest place name in the world. I thought the Welsh one was the longest (Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch), which we’ve both been to and are proud to be able to pronounce. But at only 58 letters it is beaten hands down by the Maori name Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateapokaiwhenuakitanatahu” (85 letters). There is absolutely nothing to see apart from a really long sign, and I couldn’t even buy a postcard, but it was probably worth a visit just for a photo.

The longest place name in the world

The longest place name in the world

We also got to eat a serious amount of red meat this week. We had our own cottage to stay in, sit by the open fire and cook for ourselves in and we were given loads of steak, mince and sausages. Ru also cooked us some wild venison that he shot himself. Delicious!

Mmmmm cow

Mmmmm cow

Our farm cottage

Our farm cottage

We then spent a lovely couple of days, back on the kiwifruit farm with Beth and Graham. Beth taught me how to ride a much smaller motorbike around their field, which was a lot of fun and we did some tree pruning – Sam getting to be very manly with a chainsaw.

Getting back on the horse

Getting back on the horse

Sam's journey to manhood

Sam’s journey to manhood

Graham then headed off for a hunting competition (he won $1000 for shooting a ginormous wild pig!) and Beth went to join him, so we fed the dogs, cats and chickens and had a lovely chilled out time farm sitting for a few days.

We’ve had an brilliant few New Zealand farm experiences, and although I’m not completely converted to being an animal lover, the people are awesome.

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