Kiwis and Hobbits

Since I left Auckland, I have been in Rotorua and Matamata. Because of how the buses worked, I first headed to Rotorua for one night, even though Matamata is closer.

Rotorua, in the bay of plenty region, sits on a massive bed of geothermal activity and consequently there are clouds of steam arising around the city. One area by the lake is called Sulphur Point, where the brother meal activity is particularly obvious. It was here I first went exploring after I arrived in Rotorua.

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Sulphur Point

As the name suggests, Sulphur Point has a very strong smell. There is a short bush walk alongside it, with blackened shrubs and board walks. You can see the sulphury steam rising from the ground and a few holes with boiling mud inside. Birds strut around, seemingly oblivious to their unusual surroundings.

The smell began to get to me, so I retreated to the safety and better smell of a rose garden near the museum. After smelling the roses for a while, I noticed an empty play groundground next door to it. There was a very tempting slide, which I, of course, used. I also had a go on the swings and the climbing frame.

The next morning I got up early to go to a very exciting place: Hobbiton! Hobbiton is situated on a farm just outside Matamata. I am a massive Middle Earth fan and even have an elvish tattoo of two of my favourite LOTR quotes: “Not all those who wander are lost” and “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us”.

Hobbiton was incredible! They have over 40 hobbit holes, some 90% scale, some 60% scale and some full scale! The level of detail is insane, down to the jars in the window and the plants in the front garden. There is also a full sized Green Dragon Inn (where you get one complimentary drink) and a watermill!

After my wonderful journey through the Shire, I met up with Wendy (mum’s cousin’s wife) and she took me back into Matamata. We had lunch with Rob (mum’s cousin) and I met their various pets: Smudge, Sooty and Mintie the cats and Holly and Zoe the dogs! Wendy took me out for a drive and showed me the surrounding area, then we had a relaxed evening playing Fluxx.

The next day was a rest day for me, I didn’t do much, just a bit a planning, washing and watching The Fellowship of  Ring. And a LOT of playing with Zoe, who is a little puppy.

On the third day in Matamata, I went to see its other attraction – the Wairere falls! I found out that Wairere actually means waterfall in Maori! The walk up to the falls takes 90mins – 2hrs and is all stairs or steep uphill! It is a lovely walk though, with mossy boulders, bridges and occasional views of the valley.

The walk is tough, but it is 100% worth it at the top – the view is breathtaking! And, with a little daring, you can walk across the river before the waterfall and climb down so you are basically on the edge of it!

After the excitement of the waterfall and hhe much faster walk down (it only took me an hour), Wendy picked me up and took me back to the house, via McDonalds! Another chilled afternoon happened, I watched the Two Towers, played with Zoe and relaxed in the spa pool.

After three nights in Matamata, it was time to head back to Rotorua. Wendy took me the long way round and we saw the boiling mud pools at Wai-o-tapu. We had lunch at a pub there and then she dropped me at my hostel. Many thanks to Rob and Wendy for welcoming me into their home for those three nights and for showing me round!

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Wai-o-tapu boiling mud

Back in Rotorua, I had a quiet evening reading and went to bed early. The next morning I got up early and headed out to Rainbow Springs, which is a native wildlife park and conservation centre. I cannot recommend it enough! I spent an entire day there, enjoying the animals, listening to talks and taking photos.

They are also the largest Kiwi conservation centre in the world. They collect kiwi eggs and incubate them until they hatch, then release the babies once they are a certain size. The have three older kiwis living there that you can see in special ‘nighttime’ enclosures: Te Kaha, a thirty year old female, Pai, a four month old boy and Thistle, his slightly older sister. Before I left Rainbow Springs, I picked up my kiwi, Kaia.

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Two blurry six day old kiwi chicks

I also thoroughly enjoyed the bird show at Rainbow Springs. They have some very talented parrots (and trainers)! There is also a ride called “The Big Splash” which is a boat ride that weaves around props, showing the history of New Zealand, then throws you down a steep waterslide to splash at the end!

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A basketball playing parrot

My final day in Rotorua was eventful and sunny. I had a Maori experience booked for the evening, so I decided to go to the Skyline in the day. The Skyline is a gondola thathat takes you up the hill over Rotorua and you can do activities at the top. The main one is the luge, which is a cart you t in and speed down the hill on one of three tracks. The chairlift takes you back up and you can go again!

There is also a 400m zipline that whizzes at around 80kmph through the trees to the bottom of the hill. At the end you do a free fall jump (a bit like a mini bungy, without the bounce) to get down from the tower. It was so much fun! The zipline was so fast and you felt like you were brushing past the trees as you went!

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Beautiful views!

After a lot of walking about, buying jelly beans and taking my zipline and the chilled chairlift back to the top, I boarded the gondola back to Rotorua and went back to my hostel to prepare for my outing to the Maori village.

They picked me up and the friendly bus driver greeted us and explained how the evening would go. We had to choose a ‘chief’ to greet the Maoris at the village and accept the peace offering. An older man named Andy was chosen. We arrived at the village and were greeted by the Maoris in the normal scary fashion! Once in the village there were stations where they showed you traditional Maori skills, such as the Haka, the Ta Moko tattooing and Poi, which I had a go at (it was a very basic routine).

After we were shown these things, there was a full performance that they did for us showing us how it all should be done! It was amazing. This was followed by the feast which was so delicious! I ate way too much! We had lamb and chicken and potatoes as well as carrots and salad. For dessert was steam pudding or pavlova.

After the meal the bus driver dropped us back off at our respective accommodation, but not until he’d made us all sing! A night to remember!

Wow. These posts always look so long, even though I do my best to keep them brief! That’s all for now, another installment in a week or so! Kia Ora!

Kia ora Aotearoa!

I have been in Aotearoa New Zealand for a little over a week now and so far I am enjoying myself so much and falling in love with this beautiful country.

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Trees in Albert Park, Auckland

So far I have only visited Auckland and Paihia, which are both in the North of the country. It has been very hot, although it rained once or twice and of course I was outside on both occasions!

When I arrived Auckland I was excited. I was surprised at the friendliness and helpfulness of the bus driver who took us into Auckland and I was impressed by the landscape (even though we were onto on the motorway heading into the city), but I was very tired an in need of a shower. Six and a half hours on a plane, followed by sixteen hours on a plane will do that to you!

Long story short, my first day in Auckland was disappointing. My hostel in central Auckland was terrible – messy and dirty with poor security and a weird atmosphere. I tried to find another place to stay, but was too tired, so spent the night there.

The next day I found my wonderful Brown Kiwi Hostel in Ponsonby (a nice suburb about 30mins walk from the city centre). This is one of the nicest hostels I’ve been to! They even have a hostel cat called Steffi.

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Steffi the cat

My first proper day in Auckland (I’m writing off day one), I ked around the city and found myself in Domain wintergarden, which was surrounded by beautiful parkland. There were two large glasshouses which contained lovely plants and a large area full of ferns (ferns are a big thing in New Zealand). On the way out I also found a very cool tree that was bent over – inviting me to climb on it!

On day two, I wanted to go to Mount Eden (Maungawhau), which is around an hours walk from my hostel. I set off under overcast skies and got caught in a torrential downpour on a stretcstretch of road with nowhere to hide! I decided to change my plans and go to the Art Gallery instead, where I saw a fascinating exhibition of Maori Portraits painted by Gottfried Lindauer, a European artist. The portraits were detailed and expressive – a beautiful insight into the lives of the Maori people of the time.

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A Maori Portrait

The weather had improved, so I headed for Mount Eden. It was a long walk and a hard climb, but the view was worth it – the view back to the city was wonderful! Maungawhau, the Maori name for Mount Eden, means “The Mountain of the Whau Tree” and its crater is Tapu (sacred) as it is the bowl of Mataaho, the God of secrets hidden in the ground (he used to live there).

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View of Auckland from Mount Eden

After my short stay in Auckland, I headed on to Paihia. Paihia is a small seaside town in the far north of New Zealand. My hostel here was lovely – except for the fact that the top bunks didn’t have rails! I was so scared I would fall out of bed in the night!

When I arrived in Paihia, I went on a dolphin spotting cruise. We didn’t see any dolphins! But we did circle the Bay of Islands, which has beautiful scenery (this is a trend in New Zealand). We stopped at an island called Urupukapuka on the way back to Paihia and I climbed the hill there and found excellent views. While I was there, I watched the Oyster Catchers feeding – they are so cute. As we left Urupukapuka, I saw a stingray swim past in the water – it made my day!

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View from Urupukapuka Island

On day two in Paihia, I went to Russell, just across the bay, which was the first capital of New Zealand. It is a very small place, although New Zealand’s oldest church stands there. I went for a walk through the bush next to the town and saw a kiwi bird in the undergrowth (I think it was a kiwi anyway). Ever since then, whenever I have been in a kiwi area, I have been constantly hoping for another one to appear!

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The oldest church in New Zealand

The day after, I saw a Californian quail on a walk up to a viewpoint, but no more kiwi yet. After my walk I just had a lazy day planning some more of my trip.

On the fourth day in Paihia, I visited the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, which is where the Maori chiefs first signed the Treaty of Waitangi, joining the British empire. The site is large and contains the refurbished house where the treaty was translated into Maori. There is also a large Maori meeting house, built especially for the location. Maori meeting houses are normally tribe specific, buy this house represents all tribes. I saw a cultural performance there, including Maori music and dance.

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With the cultural performers

Waitangi is also home to a massive Maori war canoe who can hold one hundred men. It was in 1940 for the 100 year anniversary of the signing of the treaty. There is also a museum on site which explains the story of the treaty through artifacts and interactive displays.

After the treaty grounds, I went in a scenic five kilometer hike to the gorgeous Haruru falls. It was a long walk back to Paihia, but luckily I managed to hitch a lift with a kind French couple, who dropped me in the centre of Paihia.

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Haruru Falls

On my final day in Paihia, I sat on the beach, reading and swimming and consequently getting rather sunburnt. It is easily done in New Zealand. The sun is very strong due to the ozone hole and even though I wore and reapplied suncream, it was not enough!

Back in Auckland, I visited Rangitoto Island – a volcanic island just north of Auckland. The island is the newest and largest volcano in the region – there are around 50 in total! There are strict rules about what you can bring onto the island and they have a complex pest eradication scheme to ensure the ecosystem is protected. I climbed the volcano in the rain, finding myself in a lovely damp cloud as I reached the top. The view was like nothing I’d seen so far – just white cloud.

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A cove on Rangitoto

I walked back down and found a path leading to the other side of the island. I walked along, admiring the plants and birds I saw and eventually came to a small cove with some of the Baches (small holiday houses) around it. There are no permanent human residents on the island, so the houses are all deserted – only 30 of the 140 beaches remain. The weather improved and by the time I left Rangitoto, it was sunny again! Perhaps I should’ve left the summit climb until the end!

As I write this, I am coming to the end of my time in Auckland. Today I had a mostly lazy day, after heading out to a bar with some people from the hostel last night. The bar was the Ponsonby Social Club and we saw a cool funky band called Hipstamatic – it was a fun evening.

In the late afternoon, I headed out to Devonport, which is just across the bay from Auckland, to climb Mount Victoria (Takarunga – “the hill standing above”). This was a good decision. The views were excellent! You could see back across to Auckland and also out to Rangitoto. There  also these cute little mushrooms, which are actually vents for a water pumping station. I could have stayed up there for hours, but I had to return to eat and blog and pack before I head off for Rotorua tomorrow!

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View of Auckland from Mount Victoria

I will be sad to leave the Northland, but excited to see some more of this incredible country, which I am falling more and more in love with day by day.

Off I go!

After a week of packing, seeing friends and swinging between excitement and nervousness, I am finally at Gatwick Airport ready to head out on my adventure!

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In Gatwick departures

My bag is checked in, I have been through the rigorous security (I forgot to take my toothpaste out as a liquid and they put it through the scanner a second time!) and I am now eating salad and waiting for 7:40 to roll around so I can go to my gate.

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My salad

Today has been fun, but quite emotional saying goodbye to people I won’t see again in person for the next six or seven months. Many thanks to the beautiful Sam for accompanying me to London and helping me walk across the city to catch me train to Gatwick!

There has been a lot of build up to this and in around 28hrs I will be landing in Auckland!

Planning my next Adventure!

On the the 13th July 2016, I graduated from my degree at Brunel University with a plan to have a year out to travel. My plan was to go InterRailing with friends for six weeks and then go to New Zealand for six months. Plans, and circumstances, have changed slightly since then.

The latter half of that plan has morphed from just New Zealand for six months; to New Zealand for six months and the US for two or three weeks; to New Zealand for five months, Australia for one week, Canada for one month and the US for two or three weeks!

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My vague route (heading east)

I am extremely excited to get this mad world trip underway! I’ve booked my flights and my bus round New Zealand, I have my first few accommodations sorted. I have New Zealand dollars, many travel gadgets and brand new camera accessories.

The anticipation of this trip isn’t without a small amount of apprehension, I am worried about having enough money (I have a working holiday visa for New Zealand and will need a job if I want to do anything but live somewhere and eat). I am worried about being lonely as I will be alone until I arrive in Canada and meet up with my wonderful sister.

I have a quote on my wall which has become quite relevant to me recently:

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”

This trip is certainly pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone.

By taking this trip alone and with less funds than I would like, I will have to motivate myself to find work and make friends in a new place in order to fully enjoy my time there. As cliche as it sounds: this will help me discover new things about myself and empower me by showing me my strengths as a stand alone human being.

Hopefully I will have enough internet to keep up the blogging, post to Instagram and Skype all my wonderful friends and family (who I will of course miss very much).

I am aware that I am very lucky. Very lucky to have the people around me that I do, who are excited for me, who have encouraged me to go and see the world and who have offered to send help if I need it while I am away. I am also very lucky to be able to do this trip in the first place, although I may not be as well funded as I’d like, I can still afford to fly halfway across the world to enjoy myself.

2017 will be a year of adventure for me, the first half and a bit will be adventures in far away places and the second half will be adventures upon returning home. I love coming home, it’s always great to be back somewhere familiar, with my own bed and the people I love nearby.

One of my favourite quotes about travel comes from the incredible Sir Terry Pratchett:

“Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”

For me, travel is not about the nomadic lifestyle. For me it is a chance to experience something new, to learn something about yourself to take home again.

But for now: New Zealand – here I come!

What to pack for InterRail

Packing is always difficult, how many different clothes do you need, which kinds of shoes, which gadgets are worth the money, do I REALLY need this thing or that thing. When I went on InterRail, I did 6 weeks in total in Europe. Now that I’m back, I thought it might be good to share what I took with me and my successes and failures in the packing department!

Rucksack: I bought a new Osprey Farpoint 40, which cost around £90 especially for InterRail. For six weeks, 40L may not have been enough for some people, but it suited me very well. Consider 60L if you’re not great at packing light but do not exceed 80L as it will be too heavy to carry with you.

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The Farpoint 40

The Farpoint 40 is a fantastic rucksack, it is well built and has very comfortable straps including a waist strap and adjustable chest strap. It has three pockets: a large, suitcase opening pocket (inside which is a mesh pocket which I mostly used for dirty clothes), a smaller cushioned “electronics” pocket and a small waterproof pocket for phones and other valuables. There are two mesh water bottle pockets on the outside of the bag too.

What I packed:

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Clothing:

5 vests
2 crop tops
2 pairs shorts
2 pairs light trousers
1 hoodie
3 bras
10 pairs pants
4 pairs socks
1 pair pyjama bottoms
2 dresses
1 playsuit
1 scarf
1 bikini
2 belts
Flip flops
Sandals
Small Heels
Money Belt
Raincoat

Successes:
– I brought a reasonable amount of clothing and used nearly all of it.
– I had enough underwear (I don’t wear bras much in hot countries, so three were adequate).
– I had enough outfits to look nice while not packing too much and I could dress suitably for churches (the long trousers and scarf were helpful here) as well as for colder weather.
– The raincoat was very useful when it rained, definitely worth bringing, though it mostly served as a bag rain cover and I got wet.

Failures:
– It was colder slightly more often than I’d imagined so I think a second hoodie would have been welcome.
– Unless you are a person who routinely wears crop tops (which I am not), maybe give the crop tops a miss, I found I didn’t wear them all that much.
– When choosing which clothes to bring, bring ones you actually like – one of the vests I brought was coral, which is a colour I don’t like, so I barely wore it.
– Also bring clothes which fit comfortably – I brought a dress which takes a while to do up and I never wore it as it is uncomfortable.
– I brought a money belt but didn’t wear it. It sounded like a good idea but was surprisingly impractical.
– The biggest mistake was bringing the small heels instead of my walking boots at the last minute. When it comes to footwear and travel, ALWAYS prioritise comfort over aesthetics! I went out in the heels once, ruined my toes and threw them into the bottom of my bag. Lesson learned.

Toiletries:

– Shampoo (2in1)
– Shower Gel
– Suncream
– Moisturiser
– Deodorant
– Razor + spare blades
– Make up (blusher +brush, mascara, eyeliner, lipsticks, lip gloss, concealer, eyebrow pencil)
– Nail scissors and file
– Tweezers
– Make up remover wipes
– Hairspray, styling product and comb
– Electric travel toothbrush and spare batteries
– Tissues
– Painkillers
– Allergy pills
– Sanitary towels
– 2 microfibre towels

Successes:
– I brought enough shampoo, shower gel and suncream to last me nearly the whole trip.
– It was a good call bringing spare razor and toothbrush heads as they are expensive.
– I am so glad I have my electric travel toothbrush, I can’t deal with manual ones.
– Moisturiser doubles as after sun for the inevitable sun burn.
– The microfibre towels packed so light and dried so fast it was amazing. Buy them now!

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If you travel at all, just buy some!

Failures:
– While the make up ensured I looked mighty fine on nights out in Europe, cheap make up + sweat = looking more gross than not wearing make up. So not necessary to bring InterRailling.
– I did not use the hair products. Unless you are someone who cannot live without styling your hair, just don’t bother while traveling.

(see the trend of practicality emerging)

Technology:

Amazon Tablet
– Smart phone
– Kindle unlimited free trial
– Spotify Premium
– DSLR Camera
– 16GB and 64GB memory cards
Micro USB storage media adapter
– Memory stick
On ear headphones
In ear headphones
Bluetooth speaker
– Plug adaptors
Portable charger

Successes:
– The tablet was a win as it was both light and cheap and great for reading books on with Kindle.
– I love my camera and having the extra memory cards meant I could take photos of everything without worrying about storage space.
– I liked to have both sets of headphones so I could swap between them on the long train journeys.
– Spotify premium was the best! It was great to be able to create a playlist with my friends and download it to listen to on long train journeys and play offline on my bluetooth speaker.
– Get a portable charger – they are the best for when you inevitably run out of battery on a train where there aren’t any plugs!

Failures:
– Unless you will die without being able to play music with your mates, a bluetooth speaker isn’t strictly necessary – it just become something else to worry about losing.
– I didn’t realise that the amazon tablet is weird about files and won’t let you transfer files to and from USB sticks, so it was pointless bringing it (it was intended to store photos if I filled both memory cards, which I did not).
– Check that the books you want to read are on kindle unlimited before you get it. You can get lonely planet guides on here, but I downloaded them and never read them!

Other Items:

Neck pillow
Small sleeping bag
– Sandwich bags
Thermos water bottle
Universal sink plug
Travel washing line
– Duct tape
– Earplugs
– Padlocks
– Jewelry
– Cards
Travel Journal and pen
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– Important documents in a folder
– Poi

Successes:
– The neck pillow and earplugs made it 100% possible to sleep on the trains – this is a must!
– The sandwich bags were useful for many things, namely making illegal lunch packs from the hostel breakfasts.
– My water bottle keeps water cool for hours as it has a double wall – this is perfect in hot countries, otherwise your water gets too hot to drink, very quickly.
– The travel washing line was used multiple times and saved paying for the dryer.
– The padlocks were less useful than expected but still good to have in hostels where the locker weren’t key card operated.
– The travel journal was of course great for documenting our journey, but also had spaces for travel details, where I wrote all out train times, accommodation details and addresses for postcards.
– Ray was my cutie travel buddy who was such a good call to bring along and photograph. He was also a conversation starter at the poi retreat.

Failures:
– I didn’t wear the different jewelry much, so I possibly could have brought less and had fewer valuables to worry about.
– I only used the universal sink plug once (it is intended to stopper sinks without plugs for hand washing clothes), this was mostly due to there being washing machines in most places.
– The pen I brought was a fountain pen and it exploded halfway round so I had to complete my interrail diary on my phone and copy it up later – might stick to biro next time!

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Ray on the night train to Budapest!

I hope this shows my thinking when packing and some of the problems that can arise from careless packing. Check out the links for product recommendations. When in doubt, pack light and pack practical!