Just spent some time at one of the most beautiful locations in the World. It takes more than thirty hours to get there from Europe. I enjoyed New Zealand very much. But as a team of travellers’ we f….d it up. The post is on goods and bads of a New Zealand trip. A subjective one. But if you travel there, do not repeat mistakes we made. Part Four.
A STORM IS COMING. CHANGE OF PLANS
Weather is stormy. It is raining. Today (Thursday, 1st February 2018) we head North from Richmond to Collingwood, where we booked our next hotel. The distance is only two hours by road. Due to weather conditions we had to change our original plans that were to fill in our itinerary for most of the day. We had to think of an alternative.
For today we originally planned kayaking in the Abel Tasman national park. It was heavily raining all night and the wind was strong. We called the tour operator to cancel. Kayaking under those conditions made no sense. It was not a problem. Money we paid in advance was quite quickly returned back to our account. A practice, we will see in New Zealand yet again in two days, when cancelling our glacier walk. Later in Queensland we will hear in a coach driving us to our jet boat ride: ‘We are very sorry to all of you, who had to cancel because of the rain’. I do not know, whether it is a thumb rule or not. But the forthcoming approach by all the operators, with whom we dealt with, made me once again confirm the professionalism of the tourism industry in New Zealand. You can book your attractions and pay by transfer long before you come. But, if the weather conditions are too poor to make it, you just call, cancel and in a manner of days you get your money back. No paperwork, no discussions.
LOCAL COFFEE SHOPS. RECOMMENDABLE
In the night, we were housing in a lodge hotel with a comfortable living room. Unlike our male fellows, who got outside earlier, we made us a cosy long morning start-up. Around 10 am we packed all our stuff onto our van and left the hotel. As due to the weather conditions the day turned into a leisurely one, we went to eat a slow breakfast to a local Richmond restaurant. Yet again we saw many locals and tourists enjoying their morning.
Yet again a slow and rich breakfast in a local coffee shop. And a delicious coffee. Definitely, one of advantages, while traveling New Zealand
THE LOCAL WINE AND CHEESE. ON THE MUST-DO LIST
Afterwards to fill in our itinerary, we visited two wineries to taste local wines. We tasted altogether around fifteen sorts of wine. The wines are of a specific taste. A bit sour in comparison to European or Latin America wines we are accustomed to. Unanimously we have selected only one that suited us all.
On our fifth day in New Zealand we discovered yet again that of things we liked most here were New Zealand cheeses. In one of the wineries we ordered a plate of cheese. Yet again the plate confirmed our theory. To be frank, each time we visited a hypermarket we bought some sorts and made us a board of cheese. Either while in a hotel or on the road. Not forgetting a sip of wine. Sounds like luxury. But it was not. Hence, a recommendation for all of you New Zealand travellers: the local cheeses are a true country speciality. Do not skip it. Just enjoy.
LESSON TWO. TOO MUCH WINDOW SIGHTSEEING IS LOSS OF TIME
The plan for the evening was to check-in in the motel in Collingwood and make photos of the Golden Bay – considered one of the major tourist attractions in this part of New Zealand. While heading there we were riding in the Abel Tasman park to sight see. As on days before – mostly through our van window. Yet again we rode and stopped at overhaul bays to make photos. Yet again. ‘Boredom, boredom, boredom’ as one of the fellows loudly stated. Yes, after yet another day of this practice I can repeat it once again: New Zealand is green and picturesque. If you rent a car or a van and ride from one location to the other on a tourists’ itinerary, forget taking additional scenic rides. You will have them almost all the time. The country has much more to offer than sightseeing through the window.
IS THERE A PILOT ON BOARD?
Yet again we ‘had much time’ and were ‘ahead of the schedule’. ‘We should call at some famous surfers’ restaurant to eat a hamburger’. The restaurant turned out to be a food trailer. I skipped this time. Yet again however we added some idle kilometers to our journey. And on the steep mountainous road curves we overheated our brakes. So, we had to stop once or twice for longer minutes to let them cool down. ‘A watch for his next birthday would be a good present idea’ I thought.
As we finally checked-in in our motel and asked our host about the walk to the Golden Bay, she opened her eyes widely and said: ‘At this hour if you go, I will have to ask the firefighters to bring you down. Soon it will be high tide.‘ ‘Yet again we f…..it up’, I thought. ‘How is it possible that none of us checked it? One of number one rules, when you travel countries with low and high tides. Check the low and high tide times’.
We had to decide what to do instead. The weather was windy. We knew already another storm was coming. But still it was not raining. The storm was still away. We decided to take a walk. Just a walk around. No map. No specific plan. I think we all had enough of the constant sitting in the van and senseless riding. Some fresh air and stretching the legs would do good to us all.
Collingwood seemed like a true end of the world. Quite deserted with some old buildings in the small city centre (a couple of blocks only) and many properties for sale. Only few properties seemed to be new or renovated. Street art on walls was a remainder of past times. People in elegant historical clothing. I looked at a street plate. ‘Kings Arms’ stood there …
Street art. A remainder of past times in Collingwood
The city was very silent. Seemed to be deserted. Maybe, because a storm was coming. Maybe, I was not in good mood, tired of constant riding. We turned at a crossing to get closer to the bay. A silent city on my right hand and endless horizon on the left one. In the forefront many colourful wild flowers. I was thinking of people, who close themselves up in a monastery for a weekend to disconnect from the outer world. ‘This place would be perfect for them.’ I thought. ‘The difference would be the views and the fresh air from somewhere over the Pacific.’
Suddenly I heard a child’s voice. ‘Hello’ it said. I raised my eyes and looked around. A small girl was waving at me through a window. Naturally I waived back and returned the greeting. ‘The place is not that deserted as I thought’. I smiled to myself.
At one of the streets we saw a guide post indicating a historic cemetery in a half hour distance. (A practice of indicating time to get to a location is widespread in New Zealand. Quite a practical one.) We decided to visit it. The cemetery was an abandoned place, but well-marked and ring-fenced. The old graves seemed to be fallen. But the grave stones were true story tellers. We read of a man, who came to visit but accidentally died in the river. Of a couple, who came from England in the late XIX century, and died one after another twenty years after. And finally of a man, who died fulfilling his duties.
The Collingwood historical cemetery
DID WE NOT FORGET SOMETHING?
This made me think of the New Zealand’s history. In comparison to Europe, a newly one. But still it would have been interesting to hear of the immigrants and their stories. How their life at the end of the world began. About the good times and bad times. Hopes and disappointments. We had no such plans. Pity. Later next week, on the day of our departure, while in Christchurch tired and sick I was sitting on the sofa in our hotel lobby looking at the display of leaflets with tourist attractions. I picked up one with the word ‘heritage’ on it. It was of a historic tour through mansions of two immigrant families. And about story telling. Having visited the Collingwood historic cemetery I realised the first time that we had nothing as such in our itinerary. One of our fellows, a couple of days after, proposed to visit a historic city in the vicinity of our planned route. ‘Was me not the only one, who missed something?’ I thought. We had at least a glimpse of how it was in the old times. But it was too short. One of major mistakes of our trip itinerary. Not mentioning any insight into the Maori culture.
Like the night before the Thursday-Friday night was a stormy one. We grabbed a bite (unfortunate choice however), but quickly returned to the hotel. We spent the evening on processing photos.
A PENNY FOR A THOUGHT, ANY THOUGHT…
In the morning my fellows went to see the sunrise at the Golden Bay. Two were feeling sick. But still they went there on a shortage of sleep. I was tired and already with a feeling that my immune system was failing. Too much sitting in the van with no true outdoor activities for another consecutive day made me indifferent to photographers’ ambitious plans. I skipped this time. After one hour my fellows came back totally wet. I guess going out for a longer walk during hurricane time was a bad idea. I heard only of ‘a field of sheep where the heavy rain caught them, and that the grass was green and soft, when one or two fell in a hurry escaping the rain shower’. I played a scene like that one in my head, not foreseeing that the next week I will be unwillingly falling on green wet grass choking … Nevermind. After we put our luggage into the back of our van, all the wet clothing was put onto luggage staple to dry. As I can recall next day we realised that two other of our fellows got sick. The unfortunate morning raised my second thoughts about our travel style yet again. At least we ate well for breakfast in a local restaurant. Ultimately we spent there around an hour. In New Zealand you have to count in slower way of doing things. All dishes were freshly made. Based however on bit different recipes than we are accustomed to.
THE NZ TRANSPORT AUTHORITY
Our journey deeper South was this time fully planned as long-lasting. From Collingwood to the Franz Josef glacier area it is more than 500 km by road. The trip took us around ten hours mostly through mountainous areas. We made us only a few short breaks. One was to shop in a supermarket. Afterwards we visited yet another coffee shop. This time, not a good choice at all. While on the road, we had to follow the NZ Transport Authority web page to confirm that roads are open after damage incurred by the storms of yesterday. We were lucky. The road to the place we were heading to was opened that day. What I liked much was that somewhere in the middle of road more than hundred kilometers ahead of our next stop, the road authority employees stopped us at a crossing to warn of the road conditions. We were asked in detail about location of the house we rented. Our lead fellow confused the locations. The man said: ‘Look for another accommodation. You will not get there’. Only after we gave the precise address, that turned out to be at the other side of the mountains, than previously indicated, the man gave us green light. ‘Please, drive carefully. Not all debris was moved yet away from the road‘ he said. ‘Please guys, be carefull‘, he repeated.
LESSON THREE. LOOK AROUND AND ASK THE LOCALS
As we arrived at our rented house it was still before sunset. We had a reservation in the local (well recommended restaurant) famous for … the Asiatic kitchen. Still it was possible to order local New Zealand food there. I decided to eat a hamburger asking the waitress to give me the most typical one for the region, and a New Zealand beer.
The restaurant was full in and outside. Dance music was all around. Behind the bar there was a dancing floor. A well visited restaurant in the middle of a busy touristic place. Midst of mountains. And people enjoying the evening. Friday evening. Even if a bit sick, I would have stayed there for an hour or so. Music and a leisurely fleur made me feel better. Unwillingly I followed my company home. Some of the fellows insisted. Tired and sick after the early morning wet ride. Understandable. I would do the same.
In aftermath, leaving too rapidly was a mistake, I think. Staying only a bit longer, talking to people and most of all looking around the place would save us some worries of the evening and allowed to sleep longer the next day. That, I realised however only the next day morning, when we returned to the place in the full daylight.
Our worry was that for the next day we booked a flight with a helicopter to a glacier to take a walk there. But due to the wind and rain the most helicopter trips had been recalled. On arrival we were told by our Landlords that may be tomorrow helicopters would be flying out. Our flight was however at the other side of the mountain, to which there was still no access by road. The other worry was whether the road at the other side of the mountains we were supposed to take to ride further South would be opened. A soil slide of the length of 100 meters had to be removed. The local forces worked day and night to remove them. Particularly that 800 tourists were stuck there.
Our mistake on that evening was that we neither looked around the restaurant nor asked around. There were at last two operators offering glacier walks at this side of the mountain located … in buildings adjacent to our restaurant with all the contact data and info displayed in the windows. Locals would tell us in the evening the same, what a nice lady from the local road authority told us the next morning. Many people cancelled the flights because of the weather. A simple call in the morning to one of the operators at this side of the mountain or a morning visit by only one of us at the opening hour would be enough to arrange our glacier walk.
MORE LUCK THAN THOUGHT
So, with more luck than thought we made it. In the early morning on a shortage of sleep we went to make sunrise photos. It did not work. We did not find any truly remarkable spots. In aftermath, waste of time and the good night sleep for at least two other hours. Good that two of our most sick fellows skipped this time. On the way back we stopped at the police check-point to get some inquiry as to whether the passage to the other side will be cleared today. In the morning it was not. But on the advice of a lady from the road authority we managed to switch our glacier walk from one operator to the other at our side of the mountains. As we arranged our flight, it was around 8 am. It gave us only time to come back to our rented house, quickly pack and return to the flights operator building. Consequence: nobody of us ate any breakfast. I managed only to eat an energy bar that I had in my bag as emergency food.
THE GLACIER WALK. RECOMMENDABLE
At 9 am on Saturday we were already sitting in a helicopter on the way to the glacier. It was my first time ever on a helicopter and the first time ever on a glacier. The tour operator gave us all necessary equipment including waterproof jackets, trousers and shoes. For almost three hours we had real fun. I did even use up battery on one of my cameras. Photos still to come.
A walk on a glacier. One of the outdoor activities you may enjoy in New Zealand
Our tour was very professionally prepared. It turns out that each day before tourists are brought to the mountain a number of people prepare each passage digging ice stairs on steeper ice slopes. At least twice we had to be escorted on steep narrow passages where we used ropes as auxiliary equipment to crampons that we had on our shoes. Couple of weeks before the departure to New Zealand I put more attention to my leg muscles workout. It made my glacier walk easy. But for a moment I felt stuck between two icy walls. Three guys, who escorted us through the walk were of true assistance. Kind, helpful and providing good mood. ‘Lady, I am not helping you. I just wanted to hold your hand’ said one of them, protecting me of a bumpy ride.
The glacier walk made the moral of our travelling fellowship to raise again. Afterwards we went to grab a bite before we hit the road to Wanaka, our next stop. In the meantime the road authorities cleared the road. The NZ Transport Authority announced it on its web page as we were still on the glacier. The news was good as today morning we were still worried we would need to take a ring road through Christchurch. The latter meant fifteen hours ride at least.
To be continued …
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