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Published: March 23rd 2011
I've had an amazing time in New Zealand. It's definitely been the best country I've visited on this trip so far, with such a wide variety of incredible scenery and excellent activities within a close distance (and all for a lot cheaper than a certain country not too far away from here...). There's something for everyone in NZ - beautiful nature, interesting cities, good nightlife.
Travelling on the hop-on/hop-off Stray bus has been a great way to see the country, without the admin of driving or having to be awake in the morning. It also enabled me to meet lots of fantastic people along the way. It's not perfect (some obscure stops, other places missed out altogether and a rubbish booking system), but I'd recommend it for anyone aged 21-39, especially single travellers, as a cool way to meet like-minded travellers.
Top 4 places in New Zealand
(in chronological order)
1) Tongariro National Park. I didn't actually do the full crossing, around half of it, followed by a climb to the top of Mount Tongariro itself. The views are amazing throughout the walk. I would have liked to do the walk more quickly, maybe even fitting in a side-trip to climb 'Mount Doom'. Maybe next time...
2) Franz Josef Glacier. The glacier walk proved a very interesting hike. Although glaciers look fairly uniform from a distance, there are lots of different features contained within - crevasses, waves
Still not sure how I managed to crawl up through the small ice cave - thought I would be stuck there until the ice thawed!
3) Mount Cook National Park. Finally got the opportunity to do some serious walking, with my personal Canadian mountain goat guide(!) including a 6 1/2 hour trek up to near the Mueller Hut. After the T-Shirt weather of Tongariro and Franz Josef, this was a rude awakening to 'real' Alpine conditions. The temperature was freezing at the top, with 100km/h winds threatening to blow us off the mountain. The views more than made it up for the discomfort though. The Red Tarns walk was a good challenge as well. 1,060 steps (at least, I lost count) to the Tarns, then off-roading it up to near the top of Mount Sebastopol.
4) Paihia / Bay of Islands / Cape Reinga (the far north, basically). Lots of fun activities (duneboarding, kayaking, night swimming) and consistently hot and sunny weather. The overnight Rock boat tour in the Bay of Islands was excellent - however, my attempts at fishing involved little more than feeding the creatures of the deep, until later on in the evening, when a piper fish decided to jump straight into my kayak!
It was tough keeping it down to just 4; Taupo / Abel Tasman / Nelson / Wellington / Milford Sound / Waiheke Island / Tauranga / Mount Manganui / Rotorua were all excellent.
And I didn't even get to Christchurch / Stewart Island / Taranaki / Gisborne / Doubtful Sound (but heard great things about them all) or do any of the famous multi-day treks.
Worst 2 places
(There weren't many places I didn't like, but 2 stand out)
1) Queen Street, Auckland. A huge number of crazy people occupying the dullest shopping street imaginable for a city of 1.4 million inhabitants.
2) Queenstown. There, I've said it. An over-hyped destination, with overpriced activities. And Fergburgers are over-rated. It is located in a beautiful setting, so walking around the area is OK, but spending $200+ to jump off a bridge isn't. I think the main reason for my anti-Queenstown feelings is that the group I'd been with on the Stray buses (who had got on really well together and been very close for a week in the more remote stops on the West Coast) started to split up there. The end of an era (well a week, but it felt like longer)
(PS - I know no-one else will agree with me about this!)
So now it's on to the fourth and final part of the trip - South America. It's another new start for me, probably the biggest challenge yet. I have no plan, little knowledge of the language and no people to meet up with. Wish me luck...
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