This is my last post about New Zealand. It is an amazingly beautiful country which exceeds all expectations. The last point on my trip there was the city of Christchurch. I came there from Queenstown, spent two days and departed changing planes in Auckland for the exotic Fiji. Christchurch is the second largest city in New Zealand and the largest on the South Island. It is tragically known for the fact that in 2010 and 2011 it has suffered several earthquakes in a row. The quakes destroyed the whole centre of the city and killed 170 people. This was one of the biggest shocks in the history of New Zealand. Walking around the city you do feel like it is still in the state of shock.
Nevertheless it is very interesting to explore it. Already the innovative ways to revive the urban space are worth the attention. In a way Christchurch has become an experimental space for contemporary art where unexpected and original temporary sculptures can be erected. Here is one of them – green armchairs turning the street into something between a guest room and a green lawn:
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This is penultimate post about my trip through New Zealand. After climbing the Franz Josef glacier in a helicopter I headed further South, to Tanaka and then to Queenstown. The adrenalin capital of New Zealand, Queenstown allowed me to experience one of the world’s highest bungy jumps – see I jumped the Nevis. It is also possible to visit Milford Sound on a one day trip from Queenstown.
Milford Sound is a legendary, fairytale place. Rudhyard Kipling called it the eighth wonder of the world, and it is New Zealand’s top tourist attraction. The most famous of New Zealand’s Great Tracks, Milford track, finds its crescendo right here. It is actually quite some way from Queenstown – several hundred kilometres. Thus to get here in a day you’ve got to spend about 13 hours. The road winds through the New Zealand’s Alps. The views are to die for:
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I have already mentioned that I have a secret list of experiences that I would like to try once in my life. Indeed I created this list before setting off to my round the world trip, hoping that I could cross out a couple of positions. Many points on the list at the time seemed rather impossible – say, sky diving – I never thought I’d have the nerve and the opportunity to actually implement them. Others seemed rather trivial – horse riding for example. But there is this special effect in the Universe. When you charge your brain with some task, it starts to look for ways to put it into action, quite subconsciously. And almost by itself out of chaos the way emerges to reach your goal. That’s why it is so important to actually have goals, to write them down clearly for yourself. It is also often very difficult to implement a complex objective without proper preparation, and an ill-prepared attack can easily result in failure. But if you build your way in small steps, gradually increasing your abilities and expectations of yourself, we can reach things that seemed impossible to us before.
One line in my list was to fly on a helicopter. Somehow I’d never done it in my life. A couple of times in South America and in Australia I almost managed to get on a flight, but every time there was a last moment cancellation – usually due to insufficient number of participants.
One of the key stops on the Kiwi Experience route down the South Island is a small town of Franz Josef. It is famous for being next to the Franz Josef glacier and allowing easy access to it. Easy access is a metaphor though, the only way to actually get onto the glacier is to fly there in a copter. The ice walls of the glacier itself are too complicated to climb for those without extensive climbing experience.
We reached Franz Josef late in the evening. The day was unusually sunny for these parts – almost no cloud in the sky. Therefore immediately we signed up for a helicopter excursion to the glacier for the next day. The bus stops in Franz Josef for two days specifically to allow for such an excursion. As instructed, the next morning I got up to be ready for a 8 am start. But as I looked out the window, I saw the sky fully covered with fog and clouds. And indeed in the flight centre we were told that all flights for the day are cancelled. And yet our driver did not give up and told us to register for a flight the next morning. If the flights were to take place, our bus departure would be delayed as needed. And that’s what we did.
In the afternoon I decided at least to take a look at the glacier from the ground, particularly as the sky cleared up. You can reach the glacier valley by bus, it is about 5 km from the town. The start of the walk to the glacier:
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It takes three hours to cross the Cook Strait by ferry from Wellington. Surprisingly as it crosses the ferry moves mostly to the North (and West) – the South Island hugs the North Island in such a particular way here. A very beautiful crossing indeed.
The rocks of the North Island:
Continue reading Cook Strait and the West coast of the South Island →
As the English expanded their hold in New Zealand from the North, their first capital logically was located at the Northern end – in Auckland. Auckland though was far removed from the South island. At the height of the 19th century gold rush it was the South island that was the prized possession and at some point it played with the idea of becoming a separate British colony. To nip this in the bud, it was decided to move the capital to the geographical centre of the country – and in 1865 Wellington was chosen to bear this responsibility. Wellington is infamous for its bad weather, especially the gusting winds. When I was there however the weather was very pleasant – as pretty much everywhere on my trip around NZ. Wellington is also famous for its quality of life – in various ratings it is systematically rated in the top group.
I loved visiting the Houses of Parliament in Wellington. As a matter of fact this complex houses both the legislative and the executive branches – the Parliament as well as the government. An organised tour of the premises starts on the hour many times a day.
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Te Puia is a cultural and geothermal complex which is located to the South of Rotorua town centre. The complex is built around Pohutu, one of the largest geysers in New Zealand. A whole series of functioning and dormant geysers surrounds Pohutu. The rather fantastic smoke from geothermal sources:
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It’s not for nothing that they call the town of Rotorua Rotovegas. This little town in the centre of the North Island of New Zealand offers an amazing choice of extreme sports activities. Already as we approached the town I tried out the exotic activity of zorbing. Zorbing is sliding downhill inside a giant plastic sphere. There are two main varieties: either the ball is filled with water or it’s dry. In the dry option you are secured to the insides of the ball so you rotate as the ball rolls. In the wet option you basically swim inside the sliding ball. I opted for the wet option and the zigzag trek. And it was quite a euphoric slide inside the rolling ball.
Rotorua area is one of the most volcanically active in all of New Zealand (and that says something!) In the 19th century there was a huge eruption here which destroyed the previous incarnation of Rotorua town as well as the famous Pink and White terraces, a geological formation with hot water pools which was the touristic playground of rich visitors from Europe of the time. Rotorua itself is located in a giant volcanic crater, in fact lake Rotorua is at its centre. I visited the Rotorua museum. From the roof of the museum you can just make out the walls of the crater that surround the area from every side.
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We set off for Waitomo the next day. Our first stop was the Karangahake gorge, where we took a walk for about an hour on a narrow path winding up and down the side of the gorge. The walk starts from crossing this bridge:
Continue reading Karangahake gorge walk and blackwater rafting in Waitomo →
As is my habit, I bought the ticket out of Auckland at the last possible moment. The Kiwi Experience office closes at 6, I arrived there at 5.15 and by 5.30 I already had a bus ticket for 20-day long journey starting next morning at 9 (a Sunday morning at that!) Kiwi Experience is a pretty unique NZ travel company. It is a bus network connecting various picturesque points which operates on the general idea of “hop on hop off”. You buy a ticket for a certain route and then you choose the dates when you travel from one point to another. You can travel with an entirely “open ticket” hoping in every point that the bus will have availability – but this is a bad idea. Time and again I was watching sad little groups of travellers who appeared on the morning to find a bus that is full. At 7 in the morning with huge backpacks in a tiniest town this is not fun as it means you get to stay there for a day or two or three. I was loathe to find myself in this situation so I reserved all legs of my journey at once – this meant that my place on the bus was guaranteed on the dates I specified. The girl who issued my tickets was even slightly amazed at the decisiveness and efficiency with which we got it done in 15 minutes – usually it takes way longer – but by the time I came to their office I already knew quite well what I wanted. I spent the whole day beforehand researching the options, after a tennis match in the morning!
The first stop of Kiwi Experience route on the North Island is the fantastic Coromandel peninsula, famous for its landscapes. You cannot reach it on public transport so Kiwi bus comes in handy (unless you travel by car that is – also an option). Once it was a gold mining area, nowadays the counterculture followers such as hippies and back-to-nature enthusiasts have chosen it as their abode. We overnighted in a place called Hot Water Beach, which is also close to Cathedral Cove.
After checking in in a very civil holiday park – which is New Zealandish for a site where little bungalows, dorms, camp sites and van sites all have access to communal facilities (laundry, kitchen, showers etc) – we set off to the start of the walk to Cathedral Cove. The ocean met us:
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My trip around New Zealand started in Auckland. As much as a third of New Zealand’s population leaves there, earning the Aucklanders a sarcastic denomination of JAFA (just another fucking Aucklander) – though it was an Aucklander who with characteristic self-irony told me about it!
I was lucky to spend my time in Auckland with my friends, a couple from Latvia/Moscow, who live there for seven years already. I have wonderful memories about my stay there.
Auckland is a city built on the volcanic plateau. There are about 50 volcanoes in the area. The evening view over Auckland from Mt Eden, the highest of these volcanoes, standing at 196 metres:
Continue reading Sunny Auckland →