Hiking capital of the world

Trip Start Sep 06, 2010
Trip End Sep 04, 2011

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Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Thursday, January 6, 2011

My next stop is a country divinely admired for its picturesque landscape cropped with rugged mountain ranges stretching all the way to the horizon, lush green valleys and topaz blue lakes nestled in-between them, and breath taking fjord sceneries; all this is what New Zealand is about. Armed with sophisticated and advanced touristic infrastructure, supported by priceless Lord-of-the-Ring promotion, the country is a prime and almost not-to-be-missed travel destination for almost every backpacker on the move. As mentioned in its farewell paragraph, South America, on the personal level, was the most emotional leg of my RTW trip which, in my eyes, will hardly be over-shadowed by the remaining continents and countries. On the plane to Auckland, still overwhelmed by and soaked with French Polynesia's beauty, I caught myself having no specific expectations about New Zealand, there were no worries, no questions arising…..the state of a mind not know before. In short, after all those great South American adventures I was suddenly lacking emotions and passion about this unique country. However, with 3 weeks in my pocket, I have plenty of time to light the Kiwi travel fire in my heart.

Almost 5.5 hr flight from Papeete to Auckland would be just another ordinary trip, if we were not crossing one interesting and unique border - the international time line. A fraction of a second and this time-measure phenomenon moves your watch forward by entire 24 hours. 'Wow’ was my first reaction, as you do not happen to experience such moment very often, if any, but then, crossing the line from east to west also ‘robbed’ me by almost an entire day! We arrived to Auckland, on December 30 at 12.20 pm, meanwhile in Papeete it was December 29, 13.20 pm; a difference of 23 hours. Quite wild, is not it? But definitely another memorable moment of my trip.

With most of the natural wonders and beauty concentrated on the southern island, Auckland was just a ‘technical’ over-night stop on my way to Queenstown, a tiny town in the southern part of the island with a reputation disproportionate of its size. Known as the "Adventure Capital of the World", this resort town is immensely popular among Kiwis, but mainly foreigners, for its abundance of adrenaline outdoor activities and great night life. Apparently, it is also the best place in New Zealand to be during the New Years Eve. So, let’s go and check it……….

100 min early-morning flight from Auckland was a nice opportunity to rest before busy and ‘unforgettable’ 24 hours in Queenstown. Beyond that, it also served as a high-altitude scenic flight revealing some marvelous mountain sceneries down below. Good start one would say. Yes, if…… . Already back at the Auckland’s hostel I was receiving certain concerning comments on travelling to the New Zealand’s holiday Mecca without previous room reservation. The guys over there were raising my blood pressure with comments like: “ you will not be able to find a dorm-bed for below NZ$ 90”, etc. Sensing that something is going to go wrong, I showed up at the Queenstown’s reservation centre. Oh yeah, my senses were right for once; unless I was willing to pay NZ$ 160 per night, nothing was available. What a nice start into the last day of the year, I thought. Not paying that much even in French Polynesia, I started to analyze available options. I dropped the idea of buying a tent, or travelling four hours to the nearest town with room vacancies, and simply decided to spend a night on the street, as meantime, I had booked myself on the next day 7 a.m. bus to my next destination. Thanks God, it was rather warm and rainless day, so hanging out in the local parks and rugby pitch, temporarily serving as a camp site, was nothing unpleasant. Let’s call it a new and unplanned experience…haha.

I must admit that this kind of accommodation problem was an absolute shock to me. Without a single accommodation reservation done during preceding four months, I was always warmly welcome to any hostel or hotel.  Even on Bora Bora, I simply showed up a day before the Christmas Eve and had the whole place for myself. All that was past, now I am in New Zealand, a place with the peak touristy season as powerful as a tropical cyclone.  After the lesson learned, I know that knocking on a hostel door without having the reservation is a suicidal act almost certainly guaranteeing you a ‘ticket’ to some nice and pricey hotel. Not only hostels, but also travelling on buses requires prior booking. Guys, there are so many tourists around the whole country that I am getting sick of it. It is really astonishing, but also a prove how important part of the New Zealand economy the tourism is. After deserted sceneries of French Polynesia and the Easter Island, this is something I can hardly enjoy.

Being temporary homeless unfortunately comes with certain negative side effects, such as having to carry and constantly watch my backpack and day-bag, or difficulties with changing clothes without being arrested for public nudity (TG for public toilet). Thought, the only thing I was really concerned about were my valuables, as losing the camera or laptop with all my pics would be one big personal tragedy. Anyway, filling the time with strolling around the town and signing for the 90 min boat trip on the Lake Wakatipu, I managed to make it to the evening hours when the streets started to fill up with ready-to-party crowd. With all that luggage strapped around my body, I surely was one of a kind among all those nicely dressed people. But, I did not mind.

To heat up for the post-midnight partying, most of the people gathered around two music stages. The ambiance was nice, but, with a lot of 30+ couples and older people, I would expect a bit more energy floating in the air during the last night of the year. On the other hand, a fair amount of youngsters and party addicts kept the Sylvester vibe high and were a great promise for lively dancing night. With the international time line around the corner and 12 hr time advance against the CET, New Zealand is among a few other world’s places privileged to first greet the new year arrival; meaning that when you were enjoying your Friday lunch, I was already ‘one year’ ahead of you……yeap, the world is big! The fact however is that I spent the whole night alone, being happy to find a couch spot at the local Starbucks and keep myself warm there till the 4 am closing. I must also say that Kiwis seemed to be nice people. Upon seeing me being alone and not much happy, a group of elderly people approached me with the ‘Happy New Year’ greetings, also giving me the rest of their sparkling wine. Besides that a group of cheerful foreigners invited me to hit a few clubs with them, but dressed up as a real backpacker and with 40 l ‘hump’ on my back, the bouncers did not have much understanding for my situation. It might not have been the most fun New Years Eve night, but all experiences count, bad or good ones, and I will, for sure, have something to remember.

As an already experienced backpacker, I bravely overcame all obstacles and safely made it on the 7 am bus heading in the direction of one of the world’s top, and New Zeleand’s most famous, tourist destination, Milford Sound.  Located within the Fjorland National Park, this picturesque fjord yearly attracts almost a million of visitors eager to get a glimpse of this amazing coastline full of sheer granite peaks plunging into deep, clear waters of the Tasman Sea. Covered by lush green forest, which however often slides down in the even called a ‘tree avalanche’, surrounding mountains create a fascinating background to this 16 km long water channel carved into the landscape million years ago by an Ice Age glacier. If not counting expensive scenic flights, the only way how to explore this beautiful part of the world is to get on one of those approx 90 min boat trips. Not only you get to see the entire fjord, making it almost to the open sea, but also, you have a unique chance to look up through waterfalls. With mountain slopes diving straight into the waters, the captain is capable to maneuver the boat directly underneath the falling water streams, just a meter or two from the mountain. It is truly an amazing experience and, for me, the highlight of the entire cruise. The whole package, ie the bus ride and boat cruise, costs around NZ$ 180; not cheap, but this is well invested money. Plus, the bus ride from Queenstown is actually one big sightseeing trip, where headseted driver comments on the passing countryside and points of interest, and also makes a few photo stops at the most scenic places. My favorite one were the Mirror Lakes, which, if the water is still, perfectly reflect image of the behind standing mountain range.  Very lovely place, though.

What started at 7 am, came to its end at 5 pm when the bus reached my next over-night destination, small town of Te Anau. Conveniently located on the road connecting Queenstown with Milford Sound, this shore-lake town is considered to be a gateway to the Fjorland National Park and all its main tracks and hikes, earning it the title ‘walking capital of the world’.  Staying two full days I was hoping to conquer six hour Getrude Saddle and a bit shorter The Summit hike. However, due to crappy rainy weather up in the mountains I was booked the whole two days in Te Anau. This time, the weather was just too heavy opponent.  Te Anau also revealed another difficulty factor, weather being the first one, of traveling around New Zealand - transportation. In general, inter-city buses will get you to main towns or villages, but not further. Lack of the local public transportation makes it very hard, and especially very expensive, to reach most of hiking tracks. The interesting ones starting tens of km outside of towns, to be reached, you have to either hitchhike or pay for absurdly overpriced shuttle bus. Priced somewhere NZ$ 35-40 for one-way ride, they are certainly the best example of the Kiwi’s ‘rip-off approach’ towards tourists. Knowing that you have no other option, unless you have rented a car, they charge you with a return ticket price which can put you on a plane from Queenstown to Auckland. One could argue that I should have rented a car which costs from NZ$30 a day, but as I am absolutely allergic to driving on any other than the right side of a road, that was ‘no-go’ alternative for me. But can anybody tell me how is it possible that an hour or two bus ride costs you the same money as renting a car for a day……that is totally sick! Speaking of high prices let me make a few more irritated comments.

Internet connection, probably the most common communication means of these days, the costs of which are rather neglectable.  No wonder that Wi-Fi connection is absolutely free of charge in all South and Central America’s hostels. Expecting the same from far more developed New Zealand, I am genuinely blown off my knees whenever I am asked to pay NZ$ 3-5 per hour. That is something I cannot put up with; simply outrageous! Once again, if there is anybody who can reasonably explain why wifi can be free even in the poorest SA’s countries, but not in New Zealand (together with Ozzi land what I heard), I will be very happy to hear it. Until now, it remains one of the greatest mysteries I have come across during my travels. Another basic article the locals like to make money on is bottled water with costs of NZ$ 3-4 per 1,5 l. This country has so much fresh water and they still want 2 eur for a bottle!? That is just sick…..! Actually, it is considerably cheaper to buy coke here than water.  Even undeveloped and poor South America keeps a bit of dignity, as the local hostels do not charge their guests for a few hour luggage storage. But Kiwis, with a smile on their face, will ask you for NZ$ 5. I can go on and on in giving you examples how disgustingly overpriced New Zealand is. I am not cheap, and I do not mind paying big bucks for exclusive places such as Patagonia or French Polynesia, as prices there reflect value given; they are simply fair and reasonable. I definitely cannot say the same about New Zealand, and I am not the only one who has this impression. In South America I had to be on alert not to be robbed by some nasty criminal, but here, in this civilized country, you are legally ripped-off by a tool called ‘free market’. What a disappointing finding right at the beginning. No wonder that after this ‘great’ first impression, the NZ’s stocks are on the best way to the bottom of the rating scale!

I would also like to make a short comment (no more is needed) on the local female population, which, by the way, will also be nothing nice to listen to. The first concerning signs of rapid deterioration of the female beauty, if compared to South America, were ‘intercepted’ immediately upon the arrival and no improvement was noticed since. Simply, I have never seen so ugly girls like here. Even British girls are sexier than female Kiwis. If you add up with their terrible taste, the final result is nothing you want to look at. Being used to South American fit females a ‘la Mendoza, this aspect of NZ is another unpleasant surprise. Free fall of the NZ’s rating stocks continues……….

Greetings from Wanaka, New Zealand
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Faran on

NZ all the way! Milford Sound all the way! You got to feel blessed when you re in the Sound. We saw a seal eat a fish the size of a big tuna, and as they have no arms... aah, whatever, it was awesome. And I remember the boat going up to the waterfall, 2m distance, getting all wet. Milford Sound forever, NZ forever!

Dude, you didn t say anything about Auckland, I would have liked to given that I have never been to the North Island. And you actually stayed on the street for a night? What kind of an auditor are you? Aren t you the guy who wants to go into the direction of making 20k a month? Dude, I love it. You are a supertramp! I actually hereby label you John Rambo (Rambo 1 to be precise, won t give you the Rambo II just yet... that s got to be earned!!!)

And yeah, what did I study? Business and economics? Another CA? Protect big corporations and legalize their actions? F*** the free market!

luxguy on

Man, you are much into NZ, but I like it on you. You have passion in your blood, dude, passion! I stayed in one very centre lacated hostel in Auckland. However, I had just half day there. I should stop their again at the end of my trip, so I make a small sightseeing tour to have something to write about.
Wow...calling me Rambo, now when my six-pack is gone from eating all that cheap shit, and when my biceps deflated like a flat tyre.....I appreciate it ;0. But I know, how you meant it. I am on the budget, so paying that sinful money for a night is absolutely inconcievably, even if I can afford it......but no, I would not be able to call myself a backpacker if I paid so big bucks!

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