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Published: January 27th 2016
After a hectic Xmas and New Year staying with 2 sets of family and friends houses, it was time to head back to hostel life and discover more of New Zealand but more importantly I wanted to relax. Leaving Alexandra I really didn’t have a plan of where I was going to but thought a couple of days back in Queenstown by the lake would be ideal. So out came the thumb and I was hitch hiking there.I was lucky enough to be picked up by 2 german guys who had been in New Zealand for about 4 months and were on their way back to Queenstown with a boat that they had just purchased. They had the rest of the summer all worked out of driving on the lake with beers and friends with the hope that they could sell it on before their time in the country was up. The phrase that everyone uses is “living the dream” and these guys were doing exactly that.
I had booked online into a hostel for one night as I always usually do so that if I like the place then I’ll book further nights. Having seen the hostel and the location of the building, which was right on the lake giving some amazing views from the windows that I wanted to stay as it was perfect. Unfortunately it was still the summer holidays and I was extremely lucky to have got that one night as the place was booked out for the next 2 weeks. Looking online I found that the cheapest place available for the next night was over £150 a night! A little bit too expensive for my taste so instead I grabbed a book as I was going to enjoy my night and found a piece of grass in the sunshine and did a bit of reading while people watching. It was early evening so people were just mooching about while street entertainers played their music as the sun went down. Awesome!
The next morning I had to check out of the hostel by 10 but managed to meet up with a girl that I had not seen for over a year while backpacking round Thailand into Laos with Will. It is amazing how more of the world I travel the more people I bump into several weeks, months or even a year later. It was a quick coffee and a catch up as I had to make a move out of Queenstown to head for a random place i found on the map called Dunedin. So out came the thumb and I got picked up by an American who told me that he would drop me off at a decent junction as he was heading somewhere else. However we were talking so much and enjoying the conversation that we actually turned up at Wanaka the place he was driving to and had totally forgotten to drop me off. After a hell of a lot of apologising, he helped me find a hostel as it was raining and it looked miserable outside for hitching, plus it was a bit late to start back down. The rain was so bad that I got into the hostel and had a chat with other backpackers that were there and had an early night. As I wanted to get up early and actually head for the place I was meant to be in!
Next morning was still damp when I headed out and managed to get a lift quite quickly with a french guy who dropped me off in Cromwell, just outside Alexandra and it was obvious that as I was going through the town I would have to drop off and see Moy and Joe who had looked after me over the New Year and have a coffee, even though it had only 2 days since I had left. After that I was on my way again and was lucky enough to be picked up by another Kiwi who was going the 2 hours drive to Dunedin. Sam was a university graduate who with qualifications exceeding anything I had was working for a gold mining company and along the journey told me the history and geography of the area that we were driving through and even stopped on the way to tell me the history of gold mining at various stops on the way. Totally fascinating and sometimes hard to understand why the area had not prospered the same way as Melbourne which was founded the same way. However it was explained that in the early days all the money made from gold went to Aukland to make that the city that it is today.
Driving into Dunedin and the highway told you that you were driving into a city. Dual carriageways, buildings everywhere and lots of traffic gave way to the centre. Sam was good enough to drop me off outside the hostel where I was staying, even though I hadn't booked it, fingers crossed that they had room and I was lucky enough for them to tell me that they had one bed left. the place itself could be described in one word, homely. It was perfect for my rest and recuperation. In the 11 months of travelling , I have often said to myself that I would relax and do nothing for a couple of days, but it would always end up with me going out somewhere and doing something. Dunedin would be the place I would actually carry this out as my body needed it after the Xmas and New Year. I slept in, lazed around on the couch watching films, cooked lazy meals in the kitchen over a 4 day period and just about did nothing at all. I did venture out to the supermarket twice in the period to get food from around the corner but that was the most strenuous thing I did. It was only after this that i did feel the need to go out and explore Dunedin and I felt better then I had months, apart from the growing toothache that had been in my mouth from the previous couple of weeks. the same toothache that had started in Mongolia and had come and gone over the past months but was now back in full force.
Dunedins’ name comes from the gaelic for Edinburgh and was named after Scotland's capital by the Scottish religious immigrants who first came to the area. They had wanted to build another city that reminded them of home. When you walk around the city the street names are from Edinburgh, like the main street is called Princes Street. There are bars called Rob Roy, there is a statue in the middle of the centre of Rabbie Burns and even the emblem on the city council chambers has a man in full Scottish regalia including kilt and bagpipes. Thats where the resemblance ends as busy and the centre itself is a lot smaller. I had a walk up to the botanical gardens as it was recommended, but as I have no idea about plants it was okay, with lots of asians taking selfies with roses for some reason. I was only out for about 3 hours and returned to the hostel to catch up with my rest and decided that the next day I would walk the other end of town to see the what was left and take photographs of. This walk took me to the centre and where the Friday night crowd would go as there were bars, clubs and a cinema, along with the Rabbit Burns statue. One thing I missed out on was the steepest street in the world which is apparently in Dunedin and I never got a chance to see it. Mind you I would have just stood at the bottom and too a picture before walking away.
I felt a little guilty leaving Dunedin as I didn’t really do a lot and a city, there isn’t much for a backpacker to see after 2 days but I was totally rested and ready to go on to the next place after 5 days. Hitching to the next place was easy and I hit Invercargill in record time after being kicked up by a Swedish guy and a Chinese lass who basically swerved across the highway to pick me up as I was their first ever hitch hiker, narrowly missing a bus to pull over. They drove me for about 45 minutes before dropping me off at a small town before heading off in a different direction. The next guy to pick me up was a Kiwi who took me as far as the next town and was so worried that I wouldn’t get to Invercargill that he gave me his mobile number and said if I wasn’t picked up within half an hour then I was to ring him and I could stay with his family. The hospitality and friendliness of the New Zealanders still astounds me that they would take a total random Pom into their houses, however I was lucky that I was picked up within minutes by Robbie. He was another Kiwi and reminded me of what a New Zealander should be, big, loud and friendly. He took me all he way to the front of the house where I was staying. On the journey he asked me the usual questions of where i was from and where I had been and in return told me about his life and his family. An awesome guy who actually gave me an invite to his house, a few streets away, for the next night to meet his family and have a beer or two, which i regret I never took him up on.
For my stay in Invercargill I had decided that I needed to save money and looked on couchsurfing.com
to find somewhere to sleep. The website is about letting people visiting the area they are going to and letting them stay at advertised peoples houses on their couch or spare rooms. I knock on the door of the house and it was answered by Elijah, who welcomed me in and introduced me to his 2 kids who were both playing with their toys on the floor. Immediately he made me feel at home and showed me where I would be sleeping, explaining that I would be sharing the room with a German girl who would be arriving later that night from Stewart Island. He told me to that i was to make myself at home and just treat it like I lived there. However I was hungry and I knew that I would have to provide my own food to eat, couch surfing sort of rules! Throughout the day of travelling I had passed about 3 McDonalds and each time looked at the Golden Arches knowing that I hadn’t had a McMeal for a few weeks. On the way back from my McFeast I grabbed some food from the supermarket and headed back to my new ‘home’, where I met Dawn the wife. She was so friendly and was happily chatting away about where she was from and why she was on Couchsurfing, as both her and her husband had never traveled. Seemingly she had read an article in a magazine a few years before about the website and decided that if she couldn’t travel then why not have the travellers come to her and share their experiences. That first night we all stayed up till past midnight chatting although I knew they had kids to get up to the next morning, thankfully not my job!
In the morning I was given a lift into town by one of Dawns friends and i met up with a backpacker that I had met in Dunedin, an awesome German called Luka and I had said i would pop by for a coffee. Randomly he was there having a cigarette where I was dropped off. Instead of just a coffee, we ended up hitch hiking up to Bluff after a recommendation from the tourist site in town. It was only about 20 minutes up the road but the guy that picked us up was fascinated that we were travelling to his home village and as he had a spare hour off work he decided to give us a guided tour round Bluff. The village was one of the first settlements on the South Island even thought didn’t get much bigger and is ‘famous’ for its oysters. There is even an oyster festival every February to celebrate it! The driver took us to the look out point where there is a sign on the most southernly point of New Zealand showing place names around the world with their milage, of which Luca was disappointed that Berlin was not included but London was. Perfect photo opportunity and a look out to sea while our new found guide pointed out various islands. He then took us up to Bluff Hill for a gorgeous view of the village and surrounding areas, only problem being that there was a bit of cloud but that did not stop the enthusiasm of the driver. After he dropped us off at the bottom of the hill, we had a wander around to see what else there was to see and found the Tourist Information office, which looked dead with no lights on but we tried the door anyways and found it to open, so we walked in and had a look around. It wasn’t until we saw the closed sign on the door that we were in fact breaking and entering an open shop, if thats possible. We did stay long enough to look through the museum in the back that we were meant to pay for, but there was no one to take our money! In fact that was about the time that me decided to make a quick exit and head back to Invercargill with another hitch hike.
After getting back into town, we decided that the next day we would head west into the wilderness of the lakes and mountains, which was more of my decision with Luca just agreeing with me that it sounded good. It was also my last night with the couch surfing family and it was nice to have stayed and I recommend it to anyone as it gets a chance to meet locals who will sometimes give you better advice then Tourist Centres.
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