1 Girl, 4 Months, 4 Countries
Hello, I’m Ellie! Venturing out on a 4 month solo trip to the other side of the world... a long, long way from home. I have a big interest in seeing what is out there in the world, and taking every chance I can to see somewhere new (sorry mum & dad)!
Following on from graduating university in June 2019, I set it in my sites that 2020 I would make my dream a reality and go travelling. On the 6th January, I will be jetting off to visit Fiji, New Zealand, Australia & Bali.
Let the adventure begin!
Entry 1 - a long trip...
When I set out planning this trip, I thought to myself ‘lets get the longest distance done first’ automatically allowing that every consequent plane journey will be shorter after the first. That is all good and said until you do it, as in reality it’s hard to estimate just how long 27 hours on a plane really feels.
Jetting out from Birmingham on the 6th Jan at 20.50, my first flight was 7 hours over to Dubai! I thought easy I will go to sleep and be sweet. However what I hadn’t remembered was quite how useless the general public are on shared transport, to the couple who kicked off as soon as they sat in their seats to the young child who decided to cough every 5 seconds throughout the flight I managed to gain a grand total of 30 mins sleep, however my mood did improve whilst landing in Dubai and seeing the sun rise over the palm which was pretty great! I was in Dubai airport for a 2hr 30min layover and must admit the airport doesn’t live up to how amazing everyone states it is? I personally thought it was just one giant shop of duty free? Next I hopped onto my next 13hr flight to Brisbane.
Thankfully I managed to sleep on this flight and as did my neighbours so this flight went smoothly and even the food was good which is a novelty! A final 4 hour layover in Brisbane saw me pacing the airport impatiently as the jet lag began to sink in, and at last I was boarding a fiji airways flight for the final leg to Nadi which would take 4 hours. All in all the trip took me 33.5 hours and I arrived on the 8th of Jan at 17.00!
As I arrived the sun was setting on the beach next to the hostel I was staying. The colours of the sunsets in Fiji are like nothing else I have seen before and combined with the 30+ degree heat, the long journey was proving to be worth while! However, a word of advice for anyone thinking of making such a long trip - maybe spread the journeys out a bit!
Bamboo Beach Hostel, Nadi.
Robinson Crusoe Island
Entry 2 - Setting out...
Despite the main island of Fiji (Viti Levu) being relatively small at 10’388km squared, the country itself consists of more than 300 islands. This made setting out to explore a little more difficult as from home I wasn’t sure on which areas were worth visiting and which to leave out! Through some research I decided to join a tour with ‘FeeJee Experience’ for 5 days to visit the highlights of Viti Levu and then would spend a further 4 nights visiting the Mamanuca Island group and the Yasawa Island group off the west coast of the main island.
Arriving into Fiji from the window of the plane, I was taken with how lush and green the country looks from above! It looks straight out of a Disney movie like Moana and really shows how little the islands have been developed to preserve this element of nature which is amazing. After a couple of days unwinding and getting over the jet-lag, I found myself falling into step with ‘Fiji Time’ and really starting to relax. I spent these days at Bamboo Beach hostel in Nadi, before picking up the tour!
On the first day, I was picked up from the hostel and met the other person who had also signed up for the same trip. Thankfully I would be travelling with a lovely girl called Hayley from Canada who was around the same age and therefore we had lots in common! Even better when you have someone you can ask to put suncream on your back when your a solo traveller🤣!! Our transport picked us up and a lovely Fijian native called Kini would be our guide, and we then headed for the jetty to catch a boat to Robinson Crusoe Island.
A short 30 minute journey through the tropical forest and out into the ocean we arrived at the island which is south west of Viti Levu. Island life is so amazing, and due to the weather being overcast, myself and Hayley decided to join the activities that were on offer. We tried our hand at coconut jewellery making, a walk through the island growth to find out more about the natural healing properties that some of their trees and plants can aid and finally a open fire cooking lesson to make a Crab broth which was then served in coconut halves. The food served was also amazing with a fresh buffet style for all meals, fish caught locally and lovely salads!
That evening the island staff put on a spectacular show which lasted 90 mins and included different dances, fire walking, breathing and dancing and also a traditional Kava ceremony for all and will be one of the fondest memories I have from my time in Fiji. I will go into a bit more detail on the process of Kava in my next post!!
Robinson Crusoe Island
The Fire Show Spectacular
The Kava Ceremony!
Getting a taste of Fijian culture...
Before coming to Fiji, I must admit I had only heard of Kava through my brother and a friend who had felt quite the influence of its effects whilst visiting the country. So other than the fact it was a drink, I was really quite clueless to what it was all about.
Kava or ‘Yaqona’ is the national traditional drink in Fiji, and is claimed to caused the body to become relaxed and slightly sedated (almost like the effects of weed and how it can relax the muscles of the body). It is made from the root of the Yaqona which is grown in the earth for up to seven years, depending on how long it is underground for affects the potency of the Kava drink - therefore in a Fijian view, the longer the better!! Once pulled from the ground the root is left in the sun to dry out, before it is then ground to make a powder form. This is then strained with water or coconut milk to create the traditional Kava drink!
When Kava is consumed it has to be done through a Kava ceremony (Kava Tanoa) where the kava is served from a communal bowl and presented often by the chief of a village. During the ceremony the host offers you the drink as high tide (full cup) or low tide (half cup). When presented the cup you have to clap once before receiving and then say ‘Bula’ (Hello in Fijian) before you drink. It is best to try and drink the cup all in one go, and once finished you return the cup to the host and clap three more times before saying ‘Vinaka’ (Thank You).
Kava if I am honest tastes like dirty earth water, and isn’t the most appetising to consume. Once you hear how its made it is exactly how you think it would then taste! It can cause your mouth, lips and tongue to go numb as well as creating a calm and relaxed nature. During my time in Fiji, I was lucky enough to try Kava on three occasions, but I must admit I didn’t really ‘feel’ a whole lot. When celebrating a ceremony in a village, I was told that it takes around 10 cups to feel the full effects which makes sense as I only had 2 or 3 maximum! However, it is great to try something new and if anyone finds themselves in Fiji I would for sure try it out😊
Entry 3 - Chasing Waterfalls...
An overcast day set the tone for leaving Robinson Crusoe Island, it was such a lovely break from the main island and therefore I was sad to be waving goodbye so soon. Especially when we had met some lovely couples staying on the island!
However after a quick 30min boat journey back to the jetty on the main island we rejoined our tour guide and driver to head to our next stop Pacific Harbour on the south coast. On route we stopped at the Biausevu Trek and waterfall, which was a really lovely 45 min walk through flat jungle where you cross the river 8 times before reaching the waterfall at the top. After the humid walk, we swam in the pool at the top which was both refreshing and invigorating.
After a lovely break at the top, we walked back down to where our driver was waiting and headed to the hostel for the evening. However, much to myself and Hayley’s horror when we arrived there was no wifi coverage at all, and with no data available either without the cost of £6 a day it looked to be a very long afternoon/evening! Thankfully we were recommended to visit the resort over the road and we could get back connected, this may sound like such a mundane issue but being a long way home without wifi can cause some level of panic especially for my mum🤪! We were due to stay at this hostel for 2 nights and therefore many trips to the resort occurred for the fast wifi and maybe a cocktail or two also!!
The Rainy City.
Entry 4 - The east coast of Viti Levu...
Departing from Pacific Harbour early the next morning we set out to the next stop of our trip in Suva. This is the capital city of Fiji and therefore we did some sightseeing of the many national embassies and also of the national government buildings. Just over the road to the governmental building was a hotel called the ‘Grand Pacific Hotel’ where the British Royals stay when visiting the country. The most recent guests being Harry and Megan when they conducted their Royal tour duties in October 2018. The irony of this visit was certainly not lost on me, as when passing this hotel it had only recently been announced that this couple would be stepping down from their royal duties and therefore would never make a trip like that one again!
Just past the city we made a stop at the ‘Snake God Cave’ or ‘7 Chamber Historical Snake Cave’ located in the Wailotua village. The name is derived from six glittering stalactites in the shape of snakes’ heads. During times of tribal war, the village would pack up en masse and seek shelter in the cave’s pitch-black labyrinth. I must say when Kini our guide was leading us through the cave, I had fleeting thoughts that this would be the point that me and Hayley would be sacrificed ourselves and never make it out in one piece🤣. Following our walk through the caves, we hopped back in the car and made our way to the Nasautoka Village for a traditional kava ceremony and village tour. The Kava ceremony was really special, with the whole process being spoken in the native Fijian dialect and going into more detail than the ones I had witnessed previously. Once this had concluded the ladies of the village had cooked us lunch, which featured lots of spinach based dishes and Kasava which is a root like vegetable grown in Fiji. A highlight of this lunch was a sort of Spinach pancake that the ladies made, which were truly incredible and I could of eaten them all if allowed🤪!
We finished the day with some bilibili rafting in the Wainibuka River. This raft is made in a traditional style with long sections of Bamboo tied together to create a floating raft, in years previously the village used this as their sole method of transport even travelling the distance to Suva by river! One of the local men from the village took me and Hayley on a short trip and it was really lovely to see a village operation which is so far removed from the level of civilisation in western countries. Everything is back to basics and spending the afternoon here really allows you to appreciate the things that I am very lucky to have back home.
Snakes and Sunsets
Sand Dune Surfing & Mud Pool Bathing
Entry 5 - The final day of the Vitu Levu trip!
After another sleep at the hostel in Pacific Harbour we packed up to make the trip back to Nadi and the conclusion of this main island trip. On route back we stopped off in Sigatoka for some Sand Dune surfing, not only was this the first exercise that I had done in a long time but to add to the challenge I was running up Sand Dunes in the 30 degree mid-day heat. Not the easy adjustment I was hoping for back into working out, and after 3 trips up the dunes I was EXHAUSTED! 🤣 However, the experience itself was great and the views from the top of the Dunes were amazing too🤩.
We finished the day with a scenic drive through the Sabeto Valley just North-West of Nadi, we drove at the foot of the Sleeping Giant mountain for around 30 minutes before arriving at the Sabeto Thermal Springs & Mud Pools. The thermal springs provide an array of natural pools to soothe your bones and cleanse the skin. Myself and Hayley also got stuck in with the mud process at the pools, where mud dug from the ground is smoothed over the skin and allowed to bake and dry in the hot sun. After about 20 minutes of baking, you enter the first of two springs to scrub the mud from the skin. You can feel the mud in the pool below coming up to your knees, so rest assured you are scrubbing quickly whilst the beady eyes of toads around the edge also speed you up🤣. Once the mud is rinsed off, the more luxurious second pool is hot, clear water that feels like you are in a 38 degree swimming pool! The whole process did leave my skin feeling exceptionally smooth and any remnants of sunburn left feeling soothed.
The end of our time at the pools also signified the end of our main island tour, and we were then dropped off at the hostels back where we started. Hayley and I got on super well during the trip so had dinner and drinks together that evening before sadly parting ways to continue our adventures!
Beachcomber & MalaMala Island
Entry 6 - Island Hopping in the Mamamuca Group
After spending one night back at ‘base camp’ or Bamboo Beach Backpackers I was back on the road again or in this case a boat! With an early start, I was driven out to a jetty to catch a boat for 45mins to Beachcomber Island for 2 night. Arriving through crystal blue waters and onto white sandy beaches, I felt like I was arriving in paradise with a fruity drink put in my hand on arrival! Beachcomber had a small circumference so only took around 10mins to walk around the whole island! I spent the first day taking time to sunbathe and relaxing in the pool and sea, and enjoying some delicious food! That evening another small boat transfer arrived with three Brits and I spent a evening getting to know Callum, Charlie and Emmy at the bar.
During this time the first warnings were sent out that Fiji was susceptible of a cyclone hitting the island group and when we woke up the next day this warning was becoming more urgent. I had one further night to enjoy at Beachcomber before I was supposed to be taking a transfer up into the Yasawa group islands to go to Barefoot Manta Island for another 2 nights. However due to predicted strong winds and turbulent seas it quickly became apparent that this wouldn’t be possible and I would sadly have to cut my island hopping trip short! Therefore, by 4pm that day I was packing up my stuff and catching a boat back to the main island with the view that if the cyclone were to hit, I would rather be on the big main island than a tiny one! Over the next 24hours the wind and rain certainly did pick up but the cyclone never came to have a massive effect over Fiji, you could therefore say I had ended my island time short for no reason but its better to be safe than sorry!
Thankfully my new friends had also cut their stay short and we headed back to Bamboo Beach together. I then had a 5 night stay on the main island before leaving, so spent the days making new friends and relaxing. On one of my last days I decided to take a trip to ‘Malamala Beach Club’ which is the first and only beach club island to exist. The tiny island felt very exclusive with cabana style beds and an infinity pool, and after taking up a pew for the day I decided to treat myself to fish tacos and a jug of sangria! This day was fantastic and certainly partially made up for the initial disappointment felt over finishing my island hopping early! On the way back out to my transfer I even managed to spot tiny little reef sharks from the jetty, which for a shark managed to be very cute!!
This day signified the end of my 2 weeks in Fiji, as the next day I would be packing up my things and getting organise to fly on the 21st of Jan to New Zealand to continue the adventures!
Welcome to New Zealand
Entry 7 - Meeting David and Linda!
All good things eventually come to an end, and after an amazing 2 weeks in Fiji it was time to turn the page and move on to the next stop of the trip - New Zealand. However, you could say it was just one good thing followed by another and hardly a chore to visit another beautiful country🤪!!
Arriving into Auckland airport, I was struck at how easy passport control is, but how overwhelming and longwinded the customs process is here. At home when you fly into the country you just choose one of the paths and walk down, very rarely is someone there to check you have made the right decision, even in Heathrow/Gatwick. However, here the customs form must be correct and checked by an officer before they decide whether your bag needs to be X-Rayed for an extra check or you are sent down the green lane exit with the sniffer dogs. I had the latter which is considered the easier route, but I must admit it is interesting how much more seriously New Zealand take their biosecurity and want to know exactly what is entering the country in the suitcases of its tourists.
My time in Auckland would be spent staying with a family friend in Devonport, just across on the Ferry! David and Linda are originally from the UK, and are close friends of a very close family friend called Sarah who has been in my life for a very long time! Arriving into Auckland at
In 5.30pm on the 21st, I sent Linda a quick message to explain the outfit I was wearing due to not knowing other than pictures what each other looked like!! David met me in arrivals and was waving to catch my attention, after a bit of pointing to confirm it was in fact me he was there to collect (🤣),we met for the first time and we made our way to their house!
The next day Linda returned from a work trip and we met for the first time also, to say the this first day in Devonport was eventful was an understatement!! To allow me to gain my bearings, Linda suggested a walk around the town so that I knew where things were if needed so we headed out to explore! We walked up hill to a placed called North Head which was used in wartime as a coastal lookout. However on our way down to Cheltenham Beach (your never to far away from home!!), disaster struck and Linda slipped down the dry grass verge and heard a crack! Later we sadly discovered that Linda had broken her ankle, and I must admit to really feeling the guilt as her sister was due to arrive the next day with lots of active things planned. Linda was super brave and after a trip to A&E she was casted and a knee scooter was hired to help with her mobility, I am still not quite sure how she remained to calm throughout the situation as I would of been sure to scream my head off!!
During my stay I also took the ferry over to Auckland to explore the city and take a look around. Auckland is a bit of an odd one for me, as there is not a great deal going on! Almost like visiting Bristol at home, they have a shopping area and a harbour area called the Viaduct which is lovely - however other than that I found the city to be underwhelming. I think in terms of living and working in and around the city it would be fab, but as a tourist there is still a lot to be desired.
New Zealands biggest city!
Entry 8 - Discovering Auckland...
From Auckland you have a lot of travel opportunities via Ferry, including 10mins over to Devonport where Linda & David lived, a trip to Rangitoto Island for a volcanic hike and also to Waiheke Island - my personal favourite and it has nothing to do with the 30 Vineyards and wineries👀!! On one of my day’s I decided to catch the ferry to Waiheke for the Hop-On/Hop-Off bus tour of the island and vineyards. As some may know the Roberts family are a big fan of these particular buses and therefore it would be rude to not get involved😉.
Catching the ferry at 09.10, i arrived on the island shortly before 10 and decided to take the bus all the way to the far side of the island first to Onetangi Bay, where the beach is 1.8km long! As the sun was just warming up, i took the time for a morning walk and iced coffee before getting back on the bus and starting some vineyard visits! I stopped off at the Thomas Bach or ‘Bach Vineyard’ for a quick look around, but sadly the cellar door was shut for a private event. However, not to worry I hopped back on the bus and headed to Mudbrick Vineyard instead, this was much more appealing with the setting looking like a villa in the south of France. I did a wine tasting at the cellar door here priced at $11 NZD which I found to be pretty good value and then followed up with one of their rosé wines which was really lovely! I took my glass of wine up onto the roof of the cellar, where they had a tiered lavender garden with beanbags nestled into the hill overlooking the water and Auckland in the background. I spent quite a few hours here, just soaking up the sun and enjoying the scenery (+ wine!!).
On one of my final evenings with David & Linda we took to the beach with their friends and Linda’s sister and husband for dinner and cocktails! With an jug of aperol spritz to drink, I had a really lovely evening with everyone and David and Linda’s are very lucky to have such fabulous people in their lives. This signified the end of my time staying with them both, and I cannot thank them enough for their hospitality and letting me stay!
Entry 9 - Visiting the Bay of Islands, Paihia
Moving on from Devonport I caught the ferry over to Auckland and spent a night at the Nomads hostel pre starting my Kiwi Experience trip. Not to dwell on the hostel for too long, but if you are ever in the Auckland area please do avoid this hostel at all costs as it is VILE. Out of all the hostels I have stayed in, I would rate this as one of the worst ever.
The next morning I was up early to join the Kiwi Experience bus and move North to the Bay of Islands. The bus was relatively quiet when I got on in the morning, and sadly as a solo traveller I was left sat next to a guy with no concept of personal space. However, after a quick stop at a waterfall I got speaking to the couple sat in front of me and was shocked to hear that they had just bought a house together in Gloucester! It really shocked me at how the first people I met on the trip were from so close to home. The rest of the trip north went smoothly and soon I was arriving in Paihia within the Bay of Islands for a 2 night stay. I headed straight to the beach for the afternoon when I arrived and top up the tan before some drunk bingo in the evening with some fab girls that I met in my dorm!
The next morning I decided to get up and go for a 8km hike to the next town down the coast called Opua and if you take a look on the photo attached this was from the top yellow marker to the bottom one! Later in the afternoon I spent more time at the beach chilling out and reading a great book called ‘I am Pilgrim’ which is a big recommendation to anyone needing a gripping new read. I found Paihia to be a very relaxing location and I thoroughly enjoyed my couple of days here in the sunniest area of NZ!
Paihia - Bay of Islands!
Hot tubs on the beach?
Entry 10 - Moving on to to Coromandel...
Moving south we briefly stopped back at the hell hostel in Auckland and I said goodbye to the lovely girls I had made friends with who were off to the Philippines for the final stage of their trip. I however would be joining a new Kiwi Experience bus for my trip through the North island and finally into the South. Our first stop would be at Cathedral Cove, famous for its eye catching rock formations that featured in one of the Narnia movies. In true form everyone made sure to get their snap for the IG and had a relaxing hour or so enjoying the surrounding beach and area - the water however was absolutely freezing!! Think Cornish coast in winter!
After this we continued onwards to Hot Water Beach where we would be spending the night. Here at low tide you can dig pools out of the sand which fill with really hot water due to the geothermal activity below - after a group effort of around 10 of us for an hour we finally had a pool which was warm enough to sit in! Not sure we quite had the technique down like some other people but we at least tried!! I was very jealous of the smug older couple who had nailed the pool and looked very glam, and best know once they had left we hopped into theirs!
That evening we enjoyed fish and chips with a few drinks and the environment of the hostel provided a great bonding opportunity for the new bus mates we had met! Some of these people that I met this night turned out to be amazing and I have made very good friends with them. Mum you would have loved it here, the skies were so clear and I have never seen stars like it - much better than your sun lounger in Mallorca.🤣 Kiki
Caving in Waitomo
Entry 11 - “Essentially these are maggots with glowing bums...”
The next day we departed Hot Water Beach early for our trip further south to a placed called Waitomo. Although in general there is not a massive amount to do here, the true pulling attraction to the area is the Waitomo Glowworm Caves! The Black Water Rafting Company, have set up a cool business model which allows you to tube through the darkness for three hours and get to see the spectacular glow worms on the roofs! During the experience we were able to jump off waterfalls into the dark water below, create a lazy river style snake and enjoy the view of above and learn more about how glowworms live and survive.
This again was a great opportunity to bond with others on the bus and there is nothing quite like ice cold water and eels in the water below to get you closer and bursting with laughter. Once we had finished we were greeted with hot tomato soup and freshly toasted bagels with butter which were truly delicious and a great way to end the experience! That evening we slept in the worlds most comfortable hostel beds which really allowed for the most restful sleep you could wish for whilst travelling🤩
Hobbiton & The Maori Village!
Entry 12 - On the road to Rotorua...
Following on from Waitomo our next stop would be Rotorua where I would be hopping off the bus for a bit and spending 3 nights in town! However, first on the way through we would be visiting the Hobbiton film set where both the Hobbit films and Lord of the Rings Trilogy were filmed. Before coming away I had especially watched the first couple of films in order to visit with at least some knowledge of what was going on. The tour was around 2 hours long and we ended in the Greene Dragon pub for a drink afterwards which was included in the cost. This tour is absolutely amazing and a must see if you are visiting NZ, I have done the Harry Potter Studio Tour at home and I thought this was even better. The level of up keep and pride taken into the beautiful set is remarkable and they have a huge team of people who work hard to look after the grounds and hobbit holes! It was a really great couple of hours and very enjoyable for those who had seen the movies and those who haven’t. I came away really excited to watch the movies again with a fresh perspective on things!
Leaving Hobbiton we continued on our journey towards Rotorua where I would be hopping off the bus for 3 nights. The first of these nights I would be staying over at the Maori village experience! About 30 of us from the bus would be doing the same experience and we got dropped off early afternoon and were greeted with a traditional welcoming ceremony where as a group we sang wonder wall (really quite something) and then enjoyed a delicious afternoon tea with some really amazing cakes and coffee. Following this we learnt some traditional Maori games with sticks where you had to throw them to the next or second next person without looking in the direction you were throwing! Whilst one half of the circle was successful at this, sadly the other side of the group really let us down and we never successfully managed to perform the full routine. Our next activity would be to learn a traditional song using the vowels in Maori which we would later perform with actions included at the evening ceremony. This was so much fun and a true highlight for many as we continued singing for the next week or so!
After a quick change it was time for the evening ceremony where other people from the general public and kiwi experience people would come and join us. First we had a traditional ceremony of welcoming where elected chiefs who represented the groups were offered a fern of welcoming and lots of singing and traditional dancing occurred! It was really special to see this culture preserved to such an extent and represented in such an entertaining way. We moved on to some workshops next where we learnt traditional Maori methods of dance, technical skills, games and of course the haka! The rest of the evening was spent enjoying a nice dinner and also an evening show of songs and dance, including a really special performance of the Haka which actually made me quite emotional at how amazing it was. The remaining Kiwi crew on the bus then got the chance to use the hot tubs in the dark and have a few drinks until late, this night really provided opportunity to bond with people who would become firm friends on the trip!
Going on an adventure...
The sulphur just seems to follow you...
Entry 13 - a few days in Rotorua!
The next day we had a slow start leaving the Maori village and only a short bus journey back into the town of Rotorua! This day would be an admin day for me and I would get a few loads of washing out the way and re-pack my bag for a bit more organisation! Later in the afternoon I met some of the others for a coffee and a little mooch around the town. Before heading to ‘Blue Lake’ nearby for some relaxation and swimming in the crisp water! It was here that I first noticed the lack of Vegetarian/Pescatarian options in NZ, in terms of where the country stands in comparison to the UK it really is quite behind in providing meat alternatives. Most shops/cafes don’t even stock a meat-free sandwich and if they do it tends to be soggy grilled veg which doesn’t hold much appeal! For a country so similar to England in a lot of ways it certainly has a far way to come in others such as this.
Later that evening the little group of friends I made, (special mentions to Charlotte, Anna, Megan, Zoe, Michael, Sean, Claudine, Olivia, Joe, Albert & Ben) headed over for a below average pizza and a couple of drinks. We soon descended into chaos on £2.50 double spirit mixers and learnt some rather interesting drinking games which didn’t leave us feeling too fresh the next day!
The next morning Charlotte, Anna & myself decided to treat ourselves to brunch in town which was certainly not on a travelling budget in terms of cost and then took a walk around the parliament gardens and lakes. The lakes are not safe to swim in here due to the high levels of thermal activity and geysers that are bubbling near the surfaces which also lends the smell of egg to the air which isn’t so pleasant! What is a pleasant side of things though is that due to the thermal activity the hostel we were staying at had a geothermal heated pool - even if it was on the cooler side than expected.
Rotorua & Huka Falls!
Next stop south is Taupo and the dreaded Tongariro Crossing!
Entry 14 - The devil riding on my shoulder!
Leaving Rotorua it was just Charlotte, Anna and I from our original group as we had added an extra night in! In a sense this was kind of sad, as although we had only known each other for a short period of time due to the Kiwi bus setting you get to know each other really well pretty quickly. However on we went to Taupo as just the three of us and with the Tongariro Alpine Crossing within our mindset to achieve! Taupo itself is a very pretty lakeside town, with lots of shops and a surprising amount to see. The lake itself is the largest freshwater lake in Australasia and is big enough to fit Singapore inside it and still have room. However despite warnings that we should bed early, we decided to meet with our friends for a mexican and a few drinks before a later than planned bedtime.
The next morning we would be up at 5.30 ready for the 6am bus departure! Ahead of us loomed shitty weather and a 20km volcanic crossing, the day didn’t start well as we passed signs which stated ‘Alpine Crossing not recommended today due to bad weather’ which is always a great sign to see before a 5+ hr hike! As we approached the start the turbo on the coach decided to cut out leaving us with absolutely no ‘umph’ in the tank to get us up the hill. A replacement bus was sent and with a later arrival then usual we were ready to set out!! The first 30 mins is a relatively flat rocky walk and was really quite enjoyable, we really were questioning why it was perceived as such a challenge and had lots of signs telling us to turn back if there was bad visibility/weather or if you were finding it too difficult. From the map we were given we knew the first test would be the ‘Devils Staircase’ and the devil was certainly in my ear at this stage! On going steep stairs for 45 minutes is absolutely no joke, it makes any session on the stair master at the gym look easy... I went through a bad way going up here so my answer was to put my headphones in and just keep looking at the ground until i reached the top. What certainly didn’t help was the ice rain beating down on us or the horrendous visibility being caused by the fog. There is nothing quite like a cold sweat to reassure you of why you have optionally chosen to complete this hike!!
Once we reached the top of the staircase the wind really started picking up as we walked across what can only be described as the moon! This barren flat dusty distance was really quite magical if you excused just how cold we were all feeling, at this point the fog really did suit the atmosphere and did at an element of beauty to things. However the worst of the climb was still to comb, after being lulled into a false sense of security crossing the moon the dreaded signs came out to warn us that the route was only due to get tougher, the more we climbed the faster the wind and rain picked up and as we were crossing this tiny little mountain peak I did question everything about my life’s existence! I was quite literally grimacing with every step I took!! After a further 30 mins we had finally reached the summit, and just like with pathetic fallacy the clouds cleared, the rain stopped and out came the blue skies and sun! I have never quite been so happy to have achieved a climb like that, and I really am a stubborn b*tch as I was adamant that I wouldn’t quit! On the way down we stopped for multiple photo shoots and slowly we could strip off a few layers and feel the warmth of the sun on our skin. Something that I wasn’t quite expecting was how much my fingers swelled up and the whole way down I had to hold my them higher than my heart to bring it down🤣. Im happy to say that the 20km crossing took us around 5hrs 30mins and by some small miracle the group I was walking with made the first bus, which is supposed to be for ‘experienced walkers’!! I think anyone who knows me can be re-assured that this is absolutely not true!!!
The crossing really helped with my confidence in myself and especially shocked me in terms of my fitness and how I can cope with situations out of my comfort zone. The views from the top and on the way down were absolutely incredible, and again if you are ever in the north island of NZ this is something you should certainly not miss out. Besides, if I can do it then you absolutely can...😉
“ain’t no mountain high enough...”
River Valley - No phone reception or wifi for 24 hours
Entry 15 - voted one of the best rafting locations in the world by Red Bull... not that I did it!
Some of the Kiwi Experience stops on the bus do feel a little pointless if you are not into the adrenaline sport that is featured at that location. River Valley is one of those places for me, nestled next to the river surrounded by fields of sheep is a backpacker lodge with not a lot going on around it. Therefore when we arrived we felt our only activity to do was take a swim in the river which in reflection was absolutely beautiful - slightly chilly but in a refreshing way and you could climb up the rock on the far side and jump off which was great! Another highlight of staying at the lodge was the fact the chef was British and served a Roast Dinner with gravy which honestly was true luxury whilst being away from home🤩
The evening was filled with cheap wine and drinking games which was lots of fun and again allowed the opportunity to bond with other new people from the bus! A rumour shortly went around the group that the river got warmer between the hours of 11-2am so we decided to test out the theory - on reflection this was defiantly the staff’s method to clear the bar out so they could shut up! One last highlight of the evening was the stars, due to being so remote like in Hot Water Beach, there was no light pollution and stars were so clear to view. I may have started this entry off being negative of this stop, but it really does show you that it is indeed the company that makes an experience and not the items that you hold in your hands.
Entry 16 - beautiful bagels
Arriving in Wellington late afternoon, it was great to be able to meet with Sean, Michael, Ben & Albert who were on their second night of the Wellington stop! It’s so nice to be able to catch up with people who you are already friends with as you escape the awkward conversations of age, where you are from etc. and can instead slide back into an easy conversation with a bit more value than the basics. That evening we had a look around the capital city and explored, wellington is notorious for being windy and can experience hurricane levels of wind as a standard.
I spent 2 nights in Wellington and it really is a lovely city to be the capital. With very quaint little streets, food stops and shops its enjoyable to just spend your time walking around and soaking up the atmosphere - especially if you walk out to the lakeside! Good visiting points are the Botanical Gardens, Streetcar up the Mountain & the Mount Victoria Viewpoint. I personally really loved ‘Cuba Street’ this area was funky with alternative shops and food places! I recommend ‘Best Ugly Bagels’ which is just off Cuba on Ghuznee St - literally the most insane salmon/cream cheese bagel & ice coffee 🤩!! Sadly I was a little under the weather during my stay in Wellington and therefore I wish I had more time to enjoy it to a larger extent, however I can of course always go back and I hope to do so too.
North Island - Over & Out!
The south island awaits!
Entry 17 - Abel Tasman brings me some sun & sand...
Leaving Wellington early we boarded the inter-islander ferry between the North and South island. The ferry takes around 3 hours to cross between Wellington and Picton in the South Island, and the last hour is filled with beautiful views of the Marlborough Sound. The Marlborough region really is stunning and is the home of wine in the South Island, I am sure both my parents will be sad to have missed out on a trip here when they previously visited NZ a few years ago😉. Arriving in Picton, we disembarked the ferry and collected our bags before boarding a new Kiwi bus along with a new driver to continue our trip south. This day is very long in terms of travel, but the thought of the beach in Abel Tasman made it all the more worth while.
I would be staying in Kaiteriteri for 2 nights, which is on the doorstep to the Abel Tasman National Park. Surrounded by golden sands and blue water, Kaiteriteri reminded me a lot of Paihia in the Bay of Islands from the start of my trip! On arrival I was reunited for the evening with my friends from earlier on in the trip, and enjoyed an evening of catching up and getting the insight on where to spend my time the next day. I decided to enjoy a beach day and some time reading my book which was thoroughly needed with how chaotic the kiwi bus can be in terms of schedule, and despite burning my ankles on the beach the stop over was thoroughly deserved. That evening, Anna & Charlotte arrived and we were reunited again for what would be the remainder of our trip! I was so happy to see the girls, and they are part of some of my fondest memories from the trip and hope to maintain our friendship when we get back to the UK😊.
I want to go surfing (or again I personally don’t!)
Entry 18 - Welcome to Westport!
Venturing south on the west coast of the south island, we were to spend the next evening at Westport. However, during the journey we were scheduled to stop at the Nelson Lakes for some photos. If you know anyone who has previously travelled NZ, this lake is famous for its blue waters and mountainous backdrop and boating jetty’s which provide prime opportunity for some very picturesque photos🤩. You can check these out on my instagram, as well as in the next photo post on my blog and are some of my favourite snaps from NZ as a whole!
Westport doesn’t have a lot to offer, and personally I found it looked like the town had been placed in the middle of nowhere with not a lot else around it. If you are interested in paddle boarding or surfing, then this is one of the best places to try your hand in the South Island. However for me and the others I was spending time with on the trip, we used the excuse to have a chilled evening of card games (namely ‘Cambio’) and also watching a movie in our room! Thankfully we were given a pretty cool room which had a sofa area and tv, which meant that between the 8 of us we were pretty self contained and could enjoy each others company. If you aren’t doing Kiwi Ex you really are not missing much if you skip our Westport on the journey south😊
When I grow up I want to be...
Entry 19 - Dressing up in Lake Mahinapua
Much like our stop in River Valley, Lake Mahinapua is one of those Kiwi stops which isn’t quite necessary to do but we are so glad that it does happen. This stop is one of the original ones from the Kiwi circuit, and comes from the bus breaking down in the middle of nowhere many years ago and a local farmer coming to the rescue and providing accommodation and aid for the bus at just the right time. As a way to thank the farmer, an arrangement was made with Kiwi that every time they drove through in the future, a stop would be made and a fancy dress party would be had.
Sadly a few years ago the farmer passed away, but kiwi as a company stepped in and bought the now lodge and renovated it to continue the tradition. On arrival we gathered in the bar, which is absolutely covered with polaroid photos from every fancy dress party held over the past 30+ years! To continue the tradition, our bus decided to choose the theme of ‘when I grow up’ and to save buying a costume I decided to wear something I already had packed with me, that being a leopard print two piece to which I would wear and be Scary Spice from the Spice Girls. So when I grew up I wanted to be a popstar! Some of you may know what I have actually been scary spice before in a halloween rendition back in 3rd year of uni, and honestly I do feel I suit my go-to costume quite well🤪! On arrival we had the afternoon to relax and prepare for the party, so me and Charlotte took up the really awful job of sitting in the hot tubs and drinking wine - so awful I know!!! The whole process of getting ready and the party itself was a lot of fun, and again is really a highlight of the Kiwi Experience trip based on everyones creativity when it comes to costumes and good natured spirit that evening.
Entry 20 - Through the Alps to Franz Josef
Following a very messy night, we were treated to a small lie in and relaxed breakfast before our bus driver Chris got us all back on the bus for a short trip down the road, and then got us back off to do an hours walk along the coast to clear the hangover out! This coastal walk was pretty even on an overcast day and we got the opportunity to see some seals bathing on the rocks which was really lovely.
Once back on the bus, everybody passed out for a good couple of hours trying to beat the hangover and catch up on the lost sleep that was not had the night before! During the early afternoon we arrived in Franz Josef which is one of the northern gateways to Te Wahipounamu, the Southwest New Zealand World heritage area. It is an almost continuous stretch of wilderness where the impact of humans is confined to a few small settlements and a narrow strip of highway! World heritage status here means that this part of New Zealand has been recognised as being among the world’s foremost natural landscapes. We were lucky to be staying in the lovely ‘Rainforest Retreat’ lodges nestled in the town, where the whole accommodation felt like you were staying in the middle of nowhere. It really was very special and we felt lucky to be there - reuniting with the gang once again we went for lunch followed by a trip to the Hot Pools for an afternoon of relaxing and detoxing. The Hot Pools provided 3 big pools which were varying in temperatures and really helped in relaxing the muscles and allowing your skin to breathe😊. It was great to be able to share this experience with the friends mentioned in my previous entry and catch up on what had happened on each other’s trips on the days we had been apart! I think I am not alone in saying that this was one of the nicest sides of the trip that even if your original ‘group’ got separated, the opportunity to catch up when you next saw each other was really special.
Later that evening there was a pizza buffet which brought a new pizza to the table each time the group managed to finish it, and they kept going until you couldn’t take any more. This soon then led into drinking with drinking games and lots of fun and stupid dancing had on the dance floor! This of course led to a few of us yet again feeling a little on the ropey side the next morning, but after a quick shower we were ready to take on the next hiking challenge that was the Roberts point hike to see the Franz Josef glacier. Despite the difficulty rating being suggested for ‘experienced trampers’, I wasn’t going to turn down the opportunity to hike to a point where my surname would be on a sign - and a great photo moment too! This walk was really something else, it was quite literally a 2 hour uphill hike where you were scaling wet slippery rocks, there was a low moment where I did think I was going to be sick as the hangover really came through but I persevered. Myself and Charlotte really did bring up the rear of the group, as Charlotte also had a moment of vomit wobble about 5 mins from the summit - but again like the Tongariro crossing we made it and were very thankful to sit down! The view was certainly worth it, and I think you can agree the photo opportunity was also😉!!
Pizza Party & Glacier Hikes
A famous tree...
Entry 21 - Pesto Pasta in Wanaka
Leaving Franz Josef we were set for a long day of travel with an estimated evening arrival not being until 6pm. Following a 7.30am departure we stopped off for a walk at Lake Matheson, where we could get outstanding lake reflections of Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman. The whole lake loop took around 1hr 15mins and had some amazing lookout points to capture really beautiful views, the cafe here was also absolutely insane and I treated myself to a cheeky bagel to start the day off right.
Our next stop off for lunch and a picture would be at Thunder Creek Waterfall which provides a prime opportunity for photo illusions where it looks like you are drinking the water straight from the falls. On this occasion I will not be posting the photo that I got, as you can imagine it is not the most flattering angle to be caught at🤪. As we approached Wanaka the weather took a turn for the worse and grey skies and winds appeared, which after relatively sunny conditions in NZ was not welcomed at all. Wanaka is where we entered the Otago region, with its stunning lakes and mountain ranges and is commonly known as the headquarters for the Mt. Aspiring national park. There is a great hike to do in Wanaka which is called ‘Roy’s Peak’ which has beautiful views out of the lake and takes around 5hrs. However, due to arriving late and the weather turning for the worst we decided to take a miss on this hike and instead had an explore around Wanaka.
The vibe of Wanaka is very relaxed and there is a famous willow tree in the lake. This tree supposedly started life as a fence post 77 years ago and for some reason grew into a tree/seeds got spread into the water and the tree grew. Apparently the tree is only famous due to the rise of instagram and has become some sort of local landmark due to this novelty - although a nice tree and good pictures can be taken, we did find it a little underwhelming. We took a stroll back into that down and had a quick look around before heading back to the hostel for some pesto pasta which was a true treat for us and then a relaxed movie. Our stay in Wanaka was only overnight and we felt if you were not doing Roy’s Peak this was the perfect amount of time to spend here.
The view of views...
Shall we go out tonight?
Entry 22 - 6 days of chaos in Queenstown!
Before arriving in Queenstown, many people had spoken about how amazing the little town is and how people arrive for a few days and end up staying for a few months. When you hear these sorts of things, you brush off the idea as just hear say but once you arrive in QT you can 100% agree with the rumours. Queenstown itself is nestled on the shores of lake Wakatipu, facing the ‘Remarkable’s’ Mountain Range and was historically home to the largest gold rush site within New Zealand. Today it has an international reputation as the adventure capital of the world, with both day and night activities to take part in. It’s a simply magical and fantastic place to spend time in and was for us a place to relax after the chaos of Kiwi and repeat essentially a freshers week from university.
Arriving in town early afternoon we met up with Michael, Sean, Albert, Joe, Zoe and Meg and a few of us decided to go and try our hand at luging at the top of the QT gondola. We paid for 5 trips down the track and honestly had the most amazing time acting like big kids on a real-life game of Mario Kart. We had one wipe out in the whole scheme of competitiveness where Sean completely rolled his kart and ended up laying in the dust on the track. However no injuries were experienced and we all walked away unscathed! Later on that evening, the group of us who had arrived that day on the bus would be off on the ‘Kiwi Crawl’ pub crawl where we would get wristbands and lower priced drinks for the duration of our time in Queenstown. The night was great and we had a limbo completion, free shots and a tour of the best bars/clubs to visit. We even went in the QT Ice Bar where we got given coats and gloves to keep us warm against the chill of everything being formed from ice and therefore below zero!
I spent a total of 6 nights in Queenstown, and 4 of which myself and friends enjoyed the nightlife on. Therefore the daytime activities were limited to say the least, based on lack of sleep and feeling slightly worse for wear. Lots of strolling around the small town, peeping in the shops and lazing in the park or by the beach happened instead - which was actually quite lovely to do with the great friends I made on the kiwi trip! However, we did manage to enjoy some amazing food namely - Ferg Burger, Lord of the Fries, Sal’s Pizza, Balls and Bangles, Tank & Devil Burger. Which are all big recommendations from me to try if you are in town - especially balls and bangles who do the most amazing custom bagels!! We discovered this gem whilst fuelling up for the one hike we managed to persuade ourselves into whilst we were there, namely the QT Hill Hike. Now this track is more of a small mountain then a hill, but the uphill ascent of around 1hr 20mins brings you out facing the remarkables with views of the lake and town below which were really lovely. A group of us climbed together and had a picnic lunch at the top and enjoyed getting some pictures and relaxing in the sun with the view😊
The Milford Sound, remarked as the 8th Natural Wonder of the World is located in the very south of the South Island and was due to be visited during a day trip from QT as part of my kiwi package. However, sadly due to some severe flooding the roads to the sound were closed for weeks previous to my arrival and continued to be so until my penultimate day. Luckily I managed to secure a spot on the trip and would still be able to visit the wonder that it is forecasted to be😊 Following an early 5.30am start we would aboard the kiwi coach once again for a 4 hour bus south to the sound, the journey itself is lovely and is part of the experience of seeing the sound. However, I only know this from the return trip as I was too busy dozing on the way down trying to catch up from the early awakening!!! Due to the day of our trip being the first day that the roads were re-opening, only coaches were to be allowed access and this would be done in convoy with road workers at either end in case something went wrong. Luckily however we were all great, and arrived for our boat trip as expected and on time. The weather in milford sadly wasn’t great on the day of our trip with lots of rain and lie-lowing clouds preventing the awe inspiring views that we were expecting. However that being said, these conditions did allow a very jurassic feel to the boat trip which was still pretty spectacular. Once back on dry land we had another 4 hour coach trip back to QT and the day did feel very much like all we had done was travel - I think if I was to go back I would like to ensure we had good weather and maybe stay over a night near to Milford to break up the journey and allow the experience to be a little more enjoyable than it was.
Queenstown was an absolutely magical 6 nights in which we partied hard and firmed up the friendships we had formed into something slightly stronger. I thoroughly enjoyed my time here and might even suggest it was my favourite spot in the whole of both islands of NZ. This certainly won’t be my last visit to QT and it will be nice to return at a later date and experience it’s magic at another age🤩.
I love you QT!
The Fiordland’s @ Milford Sound
The wonders of Mt. Cook
Entry 23 - Hooker Valley Track & Lake Tekapo
Running on 4 hours sleep from one last big blowout in QT, we were back on the Kiwi bus to head north for the last 2 stops of our trip. I promise that I have never felt more tired or more hungover in my life on this journey, and I think it is an achievement in itself that I wasn’t sick. On the way to Queenstown, I signed myself up for the Hooker Valley Track at the bottom of Mt. Cook and was excited at the prospect of following this trail and seeing the sights as it had been on my ‘To-do’ list for NZ since before coming. That morning when joining the bus in the state that I was in, I had the rude realisation that it would be in fact today that I would be taking part. Of all things, I am certainly not a quitter and once I commit to something that I want to do, there is little that will change my mind (not even a hangover from hell)!!
After a quick lunch break, I left the kiwi bus to join the Mt. Cook connections bus with a few others to be driven to the start of the walk. The walk was absolutely breath taking and was truly worth committing too, even if we did get rained on! The walk is fairly easy and you cross a series of suspension bridges as you walk through the valley with Mt. Cooks ranges in the backdrop. At the top of the track by the lookout, you can see icebergs in the lake which have broken off from the glacier behind - I certainly wan’t expecting to see these when the weather that day was still around 13 degrees. After the walk, the lovely driver stopped off at a few viewing points before dropping us at the hostel in lake Tekapo. The lake here is supposed to be one of the best places in the world to view the stars, however sadly it was a very clouded evening and we would be due to see next to nothing and therefore I headed to bed early to try and recover🤣.
The next morning after a slow start we were up and back on the bus, however we took a quick stop off at the lake which was nice and clear to view that morning with the mountain range in the far distance. So we did get to see some of the beautiful tekapo views that people speak about! Today we would be heading north for the final time and for me what would be my final kiwi bus to Christchurch.
Mountains and Lakes
Both children in Canterbury at the same time, only 10’500 miles apart...
Entry 24 - Canadian reunion in Christchurch
My final Kiwi bus rolled into Christchurch early afternoon on Sunday 23rd February. This would be my last evening with some amazing friends that I had made on my later Kiwi bus, namely - Dan, Katie, Manon, Ethan and of course Anna, Charlotte, Ben & Albert from the original gang! After checking in at the hostel, we decided to head out and explore the centre of Christchurch as the sun was shining and we wanted to make the most of the day. Quickly we found the riverside area, with lots of funky shops, bars and an indoor food market! After a quick look around we found ourselves in the beer garden soaking up the sun with a few drinks which was lovely - a true definition of brits abroad🤣.
I was due to be staying in Christchurch for 5 nights, in a bid to sort my life out before flying to Australia after a very hectic 5 & 1/2 weeks in NZ. The next day I was due to go and stay with a friend for 2 nights who is a native Kiwi and reached out when they heard I was going to be in town. I met Dan 2 years ago whilst travelling the rockies on ‘Moose Tour’ in Canada, and we had kept in touch via Facebook since. Back when travelling in Canada, I had mentioned my dream to travel on his side of the world post university and he said I was always welcome to stay which is lovely. So of course I took him up on his offer and had a treat of staying in a double-bed room with ensuite for 2 nights!! Seeing Dan again was really lovely, and he showed me around from a local perspective which was great😊 we visited the earthquake museum, cathedral square, a trip up the gondola and also to the exclusion zone. Christchurch was struck by some terrible earthquakes a few years ago and being educated by someone on what happened, from the perspective of someone who was there was really informative and touching. I would for sure check this out on google, if you are not aware of what happened. Big thank you to Dan once again for hosting me for 2 days and showing me the less touristic parts of Christchurch🤩.
I moved for my final 2 nights in Christchurch to a hostel just around the corner from Dan’s place, and took the opportunity to use the computer room to book some things for Australia and to start sorting my bag out for its next flight to Melbourne. One of my final evenings in Christchurch was spent meeting some lovely girls from the Kiwi Bus for dinner at ‘The Little High’ which is a communal eating location, with lots of small restaurants to choose from. This dinner was a really lovely way to wrap up my time in New Zealand and wish further friends the best of luck on the rest of their travels.
Just like that my time in NZ was over, the fastest 5 & 1/2 weeks of my life! I truly felt like I blinked and it was over - what an amazing country and what amazing people I met. I am so thankful for the experiences that I had with those people and I will forever hold these memories for the rest of my life. So thank you to everyone who played a roll in this experience and I send you all my love for the rest of your travels and homewards journeys🤩!