Archives for category: New Zealand

New Zealand, beautiful though it unquestionably is, suffers from a particularly ugly blight; every single person there is English. Sort of. Actually they are mostly from New Zealand. However as an English person it is impossible not to notice the proliferation of your fellow countryman/woman in every coffee shop, bar and youth hostel all over the land. While travelling abroad it is discomfiting and more than that, disappointing to hear a Home Counties accent. One hopes to encounter and indulge in foreign culture and rituals while telling interested locals about how you are from St. Albans which is a “really historic city, just outside London. Yeah I live next to the queen, yeah…” and perhaps you might pine a little for home because maybe it wasn’t as bad as you thought when you were booking your flights. When you get to the other side of the world and realise everyone there is also getting the hell away from St. Albans, your heart sinks as you realise you have nothing to share with these people because you’ve already spent 27 years hanging out with middle class wankers from the suburbs.

And so your journey takes you onward if you are lucky, to a strange and tropical island full of eastern promise, spiritual awakenings, otherworldly ceremony and tropical foods. Or you might, as Lovisa and I did, take a plane to Sydney and spend two weeks in the company of the fucking English.

On Boxing Day we bade a tearful farewell to Queenstown. It had been a wonderful three night stay, surrounded by stunning mountains, rivers and lakes, but most heart-breaking of all was that we were to leave behind the first and possibly last 4-star breakfast buffet of our trip.

After stuffing ourselves full of lamb and mint sausages, Danish pastries and banana bread, yoghurt with cinnamon flavoured berries and hot chocolate with marshmallows, we put ourselves on another InterCity coach and headed up to Christchurch.

Sadly we arrived in a ghost town, far more widely damaged by the earthquakes of 2010/11 than I had realised. The whole of the city centre is currently fenced off as a danger zone, with many of the surrounding areas seemingly abandoned and barely any sign of life during what you would think of as the busy holiday period. It was all rather sad, and as if to exacerbate the morose atmosphere, it pissed down the whole time we were there.

We couldn’t leave without finding at least one bright spot though, and find it we did. In amongst the debris of the former town centre is a small shopping precinct constructed from colourfully decorated ex-shipping containers, put together in the aftermath of the earthquakes to try and bring about some regeneration of the area, or at least cling on to what vestiges of city life remained. It is a very small collection of shops, mostly selling postcards or gift-y items, most of which seemed to be imported from the Lanes in Brighton and therefore held little interest to two ex-Brightonians. However it is all worth it (perhaps not all worth it; the two earthquakes, 185 killed, countless more injured, who-knows-how-many lives forever ruined) if you manage to find the butter chicken on sale at the little Indian takeaway tucked in to one of the slimmer containers. Mop up a bit of that with a naan bread and you can’t be faulted for momentarily forgetting that you are in the middle of a crumbling heap of broken dreams. Delicious.

With us barely having noticed, by the time we had got as far south as Queenstown, it was Christmas. For the first 26 years of my life, Christmas had been cold and wet and the weather outside was almost without exception always frightful. The next year I had my first experience of the famed White Christmas, the joy of which was tempered by the fact that it was also the first time I have ever had to work on December 25th, the price one pays for living in a snowy, Norwegian dreamworld.

This year I spent Christmas Day walking around a beachy, boaty, pretty little town, eating ice cream and enjoying all thirty of the degrees that were radiating off the sun all over my face. In truth it didn’t really feel a lot like Christmas, so we went on a jet boat ride to try and make ourselves feel a bit more festive. The results were quite astonishing.


I promise I haven’t made that face since I saw my present stack under the tree in 1994, the year my mum went to the newly opened Sheffield Wednesday Superstore and got me pretty much one of everything. The spirit of the season was clearly very much alive in me. Either that or I was sitting on a boat going 80 km/h with AC/DC and Kenny Loggins turned up to eleven on the stereo, while our grizzly old Kiwi captain Neville made everyone shit themselves with a series of death-defying spins and life-flashing-before-your-eyes scrapes with low bridges and trees.

Not exactly Christmassy but not exactly not life-affirmingly brilliant either.

After 8 hours on the bus with tour guide/driver Dave, a man so obviously in love with his job yet conflicted and saddened by the estrangement of his wife and children, to the extent that he wistfully longed for them aloud, apparently unaware or at least not caring that his microphone was still on, it was with relief that we could disembark in Wellington and think of happier things. With only a few hours in town we didn’t have much time to think at all in fact, which probably explains why, as a British person abroad looking for new experiences and tastes of foreign culture, I found myself eating a large plateful of fish and chips. For what it’s worth, it was jolly good fish and chips and they were served with a very well dressed salad, something one can not get in the average English chippy.

After a night in an utterly pleasant hostel we awoke early to catch the ferry to Picton and the South Island where we would be spending the rest of our time in New Zealand. This trip in itself was extraordinarily pretty but then we would have been disappointed with anything less having gotten to know New Zealand as the best looking place on earth.

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Upon arrival in Picton we jumped straight on to another bus to take us to Kaikoura, a small east coast town famed for its whale and dolphin communities. While we decided against spending over NZ$200 to go on a boat trip where there was an “85% chance” of seeing something big and whale-y, we did rent a couple of bikes and went and found some seals instead.

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Having found seals, we also discovered that a gangly nerd in a cycling helmet is a really effective way of ruining an otherwise lovely photograph of the mountainous coastline.

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I haven’t posted forever. Thank you for your patience. I am now going to proceed as though nothing ever happened and pick up where I left off.

The USA is a wonderful country. We saw a lot of breath-taking scenery, acquainted ourselves with a number of different and interesting cities, ate about 500 delicious hamburgers and generally had a lovely time. However there is only so much waking up to news of a mass shooting that one can take so it was with some relief that we left for New Zealand.

Aside from the murder and obesity, ignorance, religious zealotry, racism, bigotry and war-mongering, the main problem with America is its scale. It is so huge that between all the good looking bits lie an awful lot of boring, ugly bits. The same can not be said of New Zealand. It is a little country but one which wastes no space with anything other than majestic beauty. In New Zealand there are no bad views. In New Zealand every time you turn around there is a mountain or a lake or a rainforest or a beach or something else that you tell yourself was definitely used as a dramatic backdrop for a scene in Lord of the Rings because it looks so fantastical and unlike anywhere else that you ever thought could actually be real.

With all that beautiful nature waiting to be explored, we did what any self-respecting pair would do upon arrival in Auckland; we went to the cinema to watch The Hobbit.

In our defence, the whole country was going bat shit with Hobbit fever when we arrived and it just seemed like a far better deal to actually go and see the film rather than pay $200 for a Hobbit Experience Tour, even if they do let you dress up as a dwarf and swing an axe around some of the locations used in the picture.

With only 12 days to travel north to south, we were restricted to only a night or two in each of our stops so after finding some excellent kebabs for breakfast, we caught the bus from Auckland down to Rotorua.

Apparently this is one of New Zealand’s most popular tourist destinations. Unfortunately nobody remembered to tell the tourists. The town was almost completely empty and whether it was the drizzle and fog or the smell of shit from the sulphurous hot springs that kept everyone away, we seemed to have the place to ourselves.

This was mostly a positive thing except that there was no crowd to follow through said hot springs and therefore we quite easily found ourselves on the wrong side of the signs that said ‘WARNING Death by volatile, boiling spring water is imminent if you stray from the path’ or words to that effect. The ground in these danger areas literally flexed beneath your feet as it was only centimetres thick, and while I shit myself knowing I was one heavy step away from a most unpleasant demise in bubbly egg-flavoured water, Lovisa got the camera out and took pictures of me being a terrified little girl.

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After that taste of mortality I needed to unwind so, seeing as we could because as I’ve already tried to establish New Zealand is amazing, we took a walk through the local rainforest. Needless to say it was a very handsome forest indeed.

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The following day we took off for Wellington, home of rubber boots and some very fine fish and chips.