Archive for January 2010

 
 

January 28th, 2010

The New Zealand Backpacker Bus in 1000 words or less.

Dec 22, 2009 – Jan 22, 2010

Getting on the Stray bus, one of many backpacker buses that does loops around New Zealand’s north and south islands, was like stepping into another world of travel.  Unlike my previous travel experiences, where the majority of the day is taken up by figuring out where to go, how to get there, where to stay, what to eat and what to do once you’ve got that figured out, the backpacker bus turned New Zealand into a traveler’s playground.  Though I’m a big fan of figuring things out on my own, I also loved letting go of that stress and just focusing on enjoying the scenery, the activities and the many new found friends.

Since it was a month of almost non-stop adventure, we’ll stick mostly to the highlights. When you feel like somethings been left out, just assume that we are:
A) at a barbeque
B) consuming cans of Tui and Speight’s (think along the lines of Coors, only with more flavor)
C) playing games of Shithead, Asshole or Bullshit (such nice sounding games…)
D) all of the above.

The trip started in Aukland with an awesome driver named Rob.  We had about a dozen people on the bus to start, and the closer it got to xmas, the less people we had, which made things even more fun as we became a close knit group.  We kayaked at Cathedral Cove, dug our own jacuzzi’s at Hot Water Beach, ran on the beach in Ragland and abseiled down caves Waitomo.  Then I got in a big plastic ball with a guy I’d known for 2 days, we had water tossed in and we were pushed down a big hill.  Only in New Zealand…

For xmas, we had a big dinner in Lake Taupo, played some frisbee at the beach and then Tracy had her very first Jagerbomb. Good thing we got that out of the way because they love that drink here!  On Boxing Day we had the option of leaving on 7am to get on the bus and go on a 8 hour hike, or leave at 10am and go jump off a waterfall.  We chose the latter.   We spent the night in Tongariro National Park and won our first trivia night.   Then it was off to Wellington, New Zealand’s second largest city, where we spent three days unsuccessfully trying to find a place to go dancing.  It was a nice place though, we managed to see all the major sights (the Te Papa museum, the top of Mt. Victoria, the botanical garden, the cable car) in one day thanks to a random stranger who was nice enough to drive 6 of us around for a bit.  We did NOT however, see any unicyclists competing.  The city was overrun by single wheels for the world unicyclists championships, but we couldn’t find the venue for the life of us.  Sigh.

After Wellington there was a beautiful ferry ride to the south island and a new bus driver named Nipples.  One of the great things about Stray bus drivers (Rob being an exception) is that they all have silly names, and we get to use them and wonder how they earned them.   Nipples was a great guy and he didn’t even freak out when we had to push start the bus after we got off the ferry.  It was a long drive to our next stop, Abel Tasman National Park, but we did manager to hit a brewery along the way, Sprig and Fern, who had a very good IPA, and many beers on tap.  The real hits though were the bulk spirits and the cider, called the Scrumpy.   We also stocked up on some white wine from a Nelson winery (amid the many acres of hops that we drove through) before heading into the park for new years.  New Zealand’s biggest band, Fat Freddy’s Drop was playing a show only 10k from our campground, and we got tickets.  It was a great show.  I just wish someone would have told us that getting a ride home might take a while…

After Abel Tasman, and the best weather that NZ has to offer, we worked our way down the west coast – where its rains pretty much every day – with our new driver Seagull.  Seagull was an odd duck but he kept us in good spirits with his funny way of knowing, to the second, when we’d arrive at a given location.  Our fellow travelers quickly turned into our good friends, which meant that even when we were checking out the “special” waterfall in the middle of the pouring rain, we were still having a great time.  We walked on a glacier, we carved necklaces out of jade and bone, sang some karaoke, and then partied it up in Queenstown, drinking random concoctions out of teapots.

From Queenstown, we did the less traveled lower part of the South Island.  We saw the famous Milford Sound (albeit, in the rain) and then got on a ferry down to Stewart Island, the REAL south island.  There, we did a 3-day tramp through some amazing scenery and a lot of mud.

Heading back north with a fun driver named Chook (kiwi for Chicken), we stopped in Dunedin and did tours at Speight’s Brewery and Cadbury chocolate.  Then it was back to Queenstown where we stayed for another 4 days.  Queenstown kind of surprised me because of its reputation for being the party town of the backpacker experience.  It is that, but it’s also just a beautiful city, surrounded by mountains and right on a lake.  We did a breathtaking (in more ways that one) hike to the Ben Lomond Summit, looking down on the city on quite possibly the most beautiful day of the entire trip.  Then we spent the evening playing celebrity and hanging out with our bus buddies.  Most nights we did go out dancing, but the days were filled with Frisbee golf and picnics and swimming.  It was kind of idyllic.

From Queenstown, we took a bus with Nat (a female bus driver) to Christchurch.  It was an uneventful ride and Christchurch didn’t blow our minds, but it was a nice enough place to unwind after a month of go, go, go.  Along with the different drivers, we had friends who came and went, and in Christchurch we had to say goodbye to the last of them.  Even though we weren’t all on the same buses at the same time, I want to give a shout out to Team Awesome (as Seagull would say, you know who you are).  You made the trip, well, awesome.

Tongariro National Park

Tongariro National Park

Wine tasting near Nelson

Wine tasting near Nelson

Looking out over Queenstown

Looking out over Queenstown

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

Stewart Island Trek

Stewart Island Trek

A few members of Team Awesome

A few members of Team Awesome

Beer guzzling kiwis

Beer guzzling kiwis

January 6th, 2010

A Day in Auckland and Galbraith’s Ale House

12/21/2009 Monday morning our alarms went off at 6:30am and we begrudgingly packed up our huge backpacks for our journey back to Auckland.  Our bus picked us up right on time at 7:45am, and we made the 6 hour journey back to the big smoke.  It was sort of frustrating, having to go there at all, which is funny coming from two New Yorkers.  Auckland seems like a nice enough city but its much more expensive to entertain yourself in a city then out in nature.   We did see Avatar in 3D, the new James Cameron film they shot here in New Zealand.  It was amazing!

Then we had dinner and a sampler at the Galbraith’s Ale House.  Galbraith’s is an English style brewery, so there were many cask beers on tap which were served warmer and flatter than we’re used to (especially coming from Oz – the land of cold and fizzy beer!).  They also had one very flavorful Belgium style ale.  It was a tasty stop at our second NZ brewery. But all in all we are still missing our American beers. Show us the hops!

Galbraiths Ale House, Auckland, NZ

Galbraith's Ale House, Auckland, NZ

January 6th, 2010

Mike’s Organic – Days 6-7

12/19-20/09
The next few days we were the only WWOOFers at the brewery, which we thought would be lonely, but actually it was quite nice.  We biked around more and did some reading.  Finished up a few more New Yorkers to lighten the load.  Saturday was an extraordinarily busy day, because Fleetwood Mac was in town for the weekend to play their last two shows ever.  People were flying in from all over the world for the show and the brewery was on the route to the concert and thus the perfect stop on the way to the big event.  We help stock the store and they sold beer almost as fast as we could label it.  That night, they also hosted an Xmas party for a local company and a big crowd was there (we hung out in the kitchen to grab leftovers for dinner, but then just hid away in our cottage).

Once it was just us girls, Jill the co-owner really opened up to us about her life and future plans to travel.  There was a moment when we realized that being there for a whole week may have felt like a long time at first, but then when we really got to know her we understood why the twig sent us there for so long.  It was the only way we’d really get to know the people who work there.

The Mikes tasting room and brewery

The Mike's tasting room and brewery

Sara - keg cleaner extraordinaire

Sara - keg cleaner extraordinaire

January 4th, 2010

Mike’s Organic – Day 5

12/18/2009
Friday at the brewery was an insightful day.  We were labeling again, but this time working side by side with Ron, Jill’s husband and co-owner of the brewery.  Being a smaller operation, it was cool to see how everyone chips in, be it washing dishes, labeling bottles, or restocking fridges.  They finished up bottling the inaugural batch of their newest beer, Mike’s Organic Strawberry Blonde (which took a while to bottle because of a carbonation issue.  We didn’t get all the details, but we learned that even the smallest glitch can add a whole lot of extra man hours in this hands on situation) and moved over to their hop loaded Pilsner.  This switchover created a special blend that we got to try at lunch called “The Pilsberry” made from the combination of the two beers while they changed the lines over for bottling.  We’d tried both of the beers on their own before and enjoyed them, but the combo was actually the perfect mid-day refresher.

The day went quickly and by lunch we were ready to go out and play.  Tracy and I went on a little ride to nowhere in particular just to get some pedaling in and burn off a few calories before our next meal.  Our buddy Paul had stayed at home to pack up his stuff, as he was moving on the next day.  When we got back, we played some afternoon cards and tried to download a movie (to no avail).  We had just started to feel a little out of things to do when two touring cyclist rolled up looking for beer and a place to camp.  Tracy and I all but ran to greet them, excited to see who they were, what their story was, and generally get more information about cycle touring in NZ.

Shad and Rory, our two new friends, were Americans from Nebraska.  One was a just out of the military, had been working for a bit to save to travel, the other was studying religion in Chicago.  Their backgrounds were very different from ours and it was cool to meet some more crazy Americans in the middle of NZ.  We spent the night having a few beers and chatting about cycling and traveling as they managed to polish off an entire loaf of bread and tub of nutella while we all sat around (impressive!)  It seemed a bit ridiculous at the time but looking back to our own bike touring days, we would have eaten just as much and thought nothing of it.

Bike ride at the brewery

Bike ride at the brewery

Paul and Sara riding to the beach

Paul and Sara riding to the beach

Paul, Shad and Rory about to depart

Paul, Shad and Rory about to depart