Saturday, June 30, 2007

Roadtripping the North: Auckland, Thames & the Coromandel Peninsula

After 2 weeks on the Kiwi Experience bus, we jumped into a rental car and are making our ways on the rainy, windy, highways of New Zealand's North Island. Rainy, cold (but not icy), and wet, Auckland is really, just another city. The Sky Tower is really not that impressive, unless of course you are one of the few that volunteers to jump off of it! A couple of city views, some shopping malls and an overenthusiastic Kiwi day trip driver were about all Auckland had to offer.

Thames was the next little town I spent a couple nights in, getting to know a some of Cherry's friends living there. Admittedly, the North Island seems a lot more geared towards learning about the Maori culture than the South, even though the South held most of the excitement! It's really an interesting culture to learn about, and the similarities to Canada (the Nature as well as the history and Native tribes) are stunning. Although, I can say, after a night at the pub watching is MUCH less violent and much more exciting to watch. The intimidating Haka dance that starts off traditional festivals (and every rugby match) is quite the spectacle!

Thames: A small mining town, with houses that reminded me a bit of England, this town let us have a break from all the adrenaline excitement and expensive activites. I hung out with Rosie, the adorable spaniel/labrador cross, while Cherry volunteered at a school and cuddled the radiator!

Coromandel Pensinsula:
This region is definitely a place that may have more beauty in the summer...if you imagined a sunny day, you'd find yourself in a gorgeous place, with mud pools, hot springs and surf beaches. In the winter it's a bit muddier, windier, and less like a beach.

Hot Water Beach was interesting though...believe it or not, the water in the sea was freezing cold but the water underground (situated on a volcanic fault line) was boiling hot! Cherry and I sunbathing on the beach...

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Queenstown Winter Fun!

Our week in Queenstown flew by faster than any ten days of our trip yet. A backpacker party town, mixed with an adventure-lover's haven, this town is my favorite place in New Zealand yet. Our first stop was Puzzleworld, a crazy optical illusion museum that lets you get lost in a maze trying to find the 4 corners and an exit...just missed the yellow corner, almost made it but the bus was about to leave!

While Rakhi & I couldn't bring ourselves to jump off a bridge, do a crazy canyon swing, or skydive off a plane, it was an amazing party place. To make life better, Q-town is the main stop for all the backpacker buses---so we met up with lots of people we'd seen along the way. A bit sad, as our entire Kiwi bus crew slowly left the town, a few at a time...we did meet some crazy Irish lads in the dorms though!
Pics from the Kiwi Crew:

1. Dave & Sapna 2. Cherry, Tiffany,Rod & Sapna, 3.Sapna, Charlotte & Natalie

1. Ollie & Cherry 2. Brian, Frances, Natalie, 3. Sapna, Frances, Natalie, Charlotte

1. Brian & Irish girls 2. The Irish guys (Dave, Mark, Brian) "helping" us girls cook

Cherry and I enjoyed 3 days of amazing powder on Coronet Peak (which seemed snow-less at the beginning of the week!), a day or so of pretty good shopping, and 9 endless night of backpacker fun. Not to mention our last night in Q-town-- the beginning of the annual Winterfest and a kickoff "school uniform" dress-up party (hey, it was worth the free $1000 bar tab split between the less than 20 of us that could be bothered to dress up!)

To be honest, the place reminded me of home a bit...especially when we basically got snowed into the town for 2 days at the end of the trip... festival fireworks were canceled due to Canadian winter-looking roads, icy patches, and a buses in or out! Luckily we just made our flight to Auckland, no cancellations there. We're heading north, to see if the other island can live up to our newfound Q-town expectations from New Zealand's backpacker hotspots!

Enjoy the's definitely a place I'd come back to!

P.S.: Stayed tuned, a picture of our entire Kiwi bus is coming as soon as I can find a scanner that works! (The old-school lady at the photo shop stared at me in horror when I asked if she could give me a digital version of the single photo I had just paid $12 for)

Monday, June 18, 2007

West Coast New Zealand & Franz Joseph Glacier

Traveling on the Kiwi Experience backpacker bus, we made our way from Nelson to Queenstown, stopping at scenic little spots and more teeny tiny towns. Friends and fun times, crazy stories, drunken nights, and events that make Days of Our Lives seem like a children's show--comprised perhaps the most interesting part of my New Zealand trip. Scenery is scenery, it's the people, and fellow backpackers that make New Zealand what it is.
Below is a glimpse of the last eight days, our scenic route and glacier hiking adventure. Adventures in Queenstown have left me little time to blog, so for now, they are nameless photos. Between ski runs and warming coffee stops, I'll build more into the images (and maybe even think of something more creative than yet another slideshow!) Tip: adjust the right hand corner to a fast speed, there are lots of scenic shots!

Scenic Shots...

Glacier Adventure...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Impressions of New Zealand (Christchurch to Nelson)

New Zealand now brings one word to mind: scenery. Ok, three words: scenery & freezing cold! Beautiful scenery, teeny tiny towns, mountains, hills, trees, and so many lakes. Traveling the backpacker route via Kiwi Experience, the hop-on, hop-off bus, we are off on a three week adventure. Rakhi, Cherry (my surf camp friend from Byron Bay!) and I are following the South Island backpacker trail. Despite my recent shopping spree on winter clothing, I am still shivering---surprising how much I've acclimatized to Singapore's 30 degree celsius over the last 9 months!

Christchurch: The South Island's largest city, this teeny bit of land, full of unpopulated streets and little nightlife, marked the beginning of my small town culture shock. Somehow I had imagined New Zealand to be a colder, more snowy and less busy version of Australia. While the accents are similar, the towns remind me a bit of the Gilmore Girls---cute for a few days, a great break from reality, but somehow impossible to live with for longer periods of time. A cute city, one of the few I've visited this past week with an actual shopping mall.

Kaikoura: Normally a surfing town in the summer, our one cold winter day in this town proved to be more than enough. Too cold to even swim with the dolphins (all tours cancelled), we took the hostel's dog for a walk, wandered the bars for a night and hopped on the bus to the next mini-town.

Westport: The next day we sat on a jetboat for an hour, a tame adventure...the best part of our day was warming up by the hostel's fireplace!

Lake Manihupua: A backpacker party stop in the middle of nowhere, this night proved to be tons of fun. We stopped in Greymouth (you guessed it, another teeny town!) at Warehouse, a Walmart look-alike, to get "binbags" (garbage bags) and design our costumes. Cherry dressed as a scuba diver, Rakhi was a penguin and I was a snowman. You should have seen the costumes that came from a few hours in a tiny town, and a few multi-coloured bin bags!

Nelson: High hopes for a "city" in Nelson didn't really pan out...although the wine tasting and flavour shots en route were fun!

So where are the pictures of this beautiful scenery, you ask? No doubt by now you loyal blog-followers are a bit tired of my slideshows :-). It's the best way to get the picture though, so I'll split them into a couple shows for my next entry so you can enjoy the view, not to mention our past couple days on a glacier(stay tuned!!!). Parts of it remind me of Canada and the Rockies...great window watching for the road trip anyway!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef

Cairns, as a city, has little to offer...but is situated on the most beautiful part of an ocean I've seen, the Great Barrier Reef. Although the diving didn't work out (turns out I'm uncompatible deep underwater!), snorkelling was amazing. No shark sighting for me (they come out on night dives)...but at least I found Nemo! We saw everything from clownfish to giant parrot fish to turtles and stingray.

Although the most exciting thing in Cairns was the Billabong store and the bird that ate my scone, my amateur underwater pics, and pics from an amazing (but rocky!) boat ride are below. A bit tired of these mini Australian "cities", I'm off to check out some Kiwi adventures across the ocean. Enjoy the view!