New Zealand Part 2 :: South Island

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If North Island was good, South Island is better. At least, that's the opinion of almost everyone I asked. More epic nature. More remote locations.

I finally got into the groove of this trip. Surface friends fell away. And the handful of travelers I truly clicked with stuck around and made the experience a thousand times better. I stopped stressing about money. and about image. about trying to be a best friend to everyone I talked to. I slept if I was tired or went out if I felt like it. I kept up with work and put it out of my mind when I'm not dealing with deadlines. I let go of trying to control my surroundings.


Abel Tasman (Marahau)

The signup sheet for activities was making its way around the bus. There was at least 5 to choose from but one form was empty. It was the most expensive: Canyoning. I didn't even think twice before writing my name down and it was well worth the money!!

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This face aint attractive. cuz who has time to look pretty when in reality they're sliding down a boulder + trying not to drown + scared af. you can't fake that kind of thing.

It was insane in the best way possible. Took all I had to not pee in my wetsuit.

And shoutout to our guide Lee who was in Survivor New Zealand!! 

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Westport

 Quick stop to see the seals at Tauranga Bay

Quick stop to see the seals at Tauranga Bay

Stopover at a historic coal mining town. At the hostel, my little girl group bonded over hot chocolate and movies in the common room. On our ride out, we visited Punakaiki’s Pancake Rocks.


Franz Josef

The sun finally came out for a bit in this glacier town. Many opted for the expensive helicopter ride that takes you on top of the glacier but I wanted to save that experience for somewhere more epic like Iceland 🤞🤞Instead, Mara and I took the day to hike from the town center to the bottom of the glacier. To this moment I can say it was absolutely one of my top New Zealand highlights – Fo' freeeee.

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Yes, the water in this river looks like milk! It's super-fine powder from glacial erosion that flows down and mixes with the water, making it cloudy. #science

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Closer to the glacier though, there was fresh, ice-cold water that was pure enough to fill up our water bottles. 


Wanaka

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Either love it or hate it, but Stray makes several stops along the way to show off beautiful landmarks. Sometimes the driver surprises you with a hike first thing in the morning when I couldn't be bothered with anything. It definitely pushed me to see things that I would never have seen otherwise.

 Sunrise during the morning walk to Lake Matheson

Sunrise during the morning walk to Lake Matheson

 Glassy surface of Lake Matheson

Glassy surface of Lake Matheson

And then came Wanaka. It was so beautiful and peaceful here, they it was just like Queenstown before it blew up with commercial tourism - and became the "adventure capital of the world".. I'd take Wanaka over Queenstown any day.

While we were chilling on a small dock at the lake, a random old guy was desperately trying to form a crew for a regatta happening in 30 minutes. 

Do you girls know how to sail?
ummm *looking at each other* no
that's fine do you wanna come on my boat to help me out? 
*everyone looking at me* go! ... (me) ok! Elsie come with me!

Best decision ever.

Funny thing though.. if you're familiar with the show Friends where Rachel teaches Joey how to sail, it was like that at some moments 😂


Queenstown

I had sky high expectations for this city. But comparing it with the incredible experiences prior, it was kind of a letdown.. So I spent a couple days resting and working, laundry, eating good food again, and enjoying the nightlife. Mara and I took a hike up to see the city from above:

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As we scampered up some steep parts of the trail, we knew we'd have to hike down in complete darkness. Wasn't the safest idea but it was worth it for that twilight view!

It was the last nights of our little group being together 😢

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Te Anau

I decided to hop off Stray bus at the gateway to Fiordland National Park (my DREAM come true) to properly take in this beautiful destination..

I knew Milford Sound was a bucket list item, so instead of taking the average cruise I felt like turning it up a notch and signed up for a sea kayaking tour. and it. was. amazing...

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Being able to look into the water, touch the water, hear the birds and come inches from the foot of these giant cliffs exploding out of the water made me feel so much more connected to the fiords than any cruise ship could..

Some stops we made on the way back to town:

 Vojtěch Pango Zámečník: the pia-NOMAD

Vojtěch Pango Zámečník: the pia-NOMAD

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Gunn's Camp/Invercargill and surrounding areas

By this point (as you'll judge by my lack of photos) I was exhausted from constant Stray-ing around and couldn't wait to reach the end of my itinerary (Christchurch). Arriving at Gunn's Camp I heard there were glowworms so a group of us took a mini outing to see them in their natural habitat. Def quite an adventure finding them under the moonlight 🔦

Other than that.. it was starting to get really cold as the seasons changed. The sun made spotty appearances.. I was lacking vitamin D big time :(

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Mt. Cook

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Excerpt from my travel journal:

very tired and weather was still shit, didn’t do anything at all, everyone was annoying me, shitty beds and skin flaring really badly.

Looks like Jessica was just not having it 😂

So throughout our Stray travels most of us brought around these cooler bags to store food, because 90% of the time we'd all have to cook in order to eat. My meals usually consist of lentils, potatoes, carrots and celery. Then oats and fruits for breakfast. sometimes bread and hummus. Because of the constant moving around, lack of sleep, lack of space, and this ridiculous diet (I was trying to be ... errr.. healthy), I lost nearly 10 pounds and was borderline underweight at 13% body fat after two months. Sure I would eat at restaurants when I had a chance. What I didn't realize is that I was doing all these hardcore physical activities and putting myself really far out of my comfort zone but didn't take care of myself properly. I saved money but at the expense of my physical health and mental well-being. Crazy!

 spotting my first baby iceberg!

spotting my first baby iceberg!

Ultimately, New Zealand is a nature lover backpacker's paradise. The people are proud to take care and preserve their land. What a thrill for the child in me to experience the entire country in such a way - hardships and all. Two months around New Zealand: check.

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Do you have any outstanding experiences with Stray? Let me know!

New Zealand Part 1 :: North Island

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Turns out it doesn't matter how much I prepare and plan for a trip. Somehow, stepping off the plane with little to no expectations and fresh eyes, always shatters my world - only to leave me putting together a new one. 

I was overeager to book with Stray Travel - a "guided hop-on hop-off adventure bus" as they call themselves. It was perfect in concept.. I can meet people, not worry about transportation to remote areas, and hop off to do my own thing if I needed a break. Sometimes it takes a period of time to put things in perspective. Here are some pros + cons to my own experience and lessons I've learned on how I like to travel.


Arriving in Auckland to catch the bus, I was so pumped and ready to meet, greet, and befriend anyone I came across. BUT I completely missed my bus the next morning. Fortunately, I got to meet some awesome bunkmates the next day, making my time in the city short but worth it. I legit almost missed the bus AGAIN the next day, and after only 20 minutes to pack up and run to the bus stop, we headed to our first official Stray destination --

Hahei/Coromandel Peninsula

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Lucky for us, we were gifted 1 perfectly sunny day on the waves and hot springs before a cyclone hit us - marking the wettest day in 58 years... womp. Being stranded for an extra night from floods helped us to bond with one another by learning jiu jitsu moves, doing yoga, and even going to the beach together while sand blew in our eyes 😂

On our way to the next stop we had a chance to join a white water rafting activity. Given that the big storm just filled the river with the best rapids possible, I couldn't pass it up!


Rotorua

One of Stray's perks is they reserve a bed for you at each stop (usually Base Hostel or YHA) so that we're guaranteed a place to sleep. If we hop off, we can find a different hostel and do our own thing. I wanted to hop off and booked what became one of my favorite hostels: Funky Green Voyager. We also played tourist and went to Hobbiton. 


 Lake Aniwhenua

Here is when I started to see how potentially awkward things can get. I had hopped off for an extra two days in Rotorua and all the original friends I made left before I did. There I was alone, joining a new bus with new people. It was a sudden realization that the people I come across will come and go in a flash. So, do I grab a beer and attempt to make friends? or take a nap? (i chose nap..#introverting)

 Maori Haka dance lessons while some others were baking fresh bread in the kitchen

Maori Haka dance lessons while some others were baking fresh bread in the kitchen


Whakahoro: Blue Duck Station

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This place left me speechless...Super remote classic NZ.. no wifi, no signal, lots of nature. I joined the horse trekking tour of the farm, one of my favorite memories of the trip. I've never seen so much wildlife - I'm talking about galloping herds of different animals off in the distance. It felt like stepping into a Nat Geo documentary. I didn't take much photos! That's the downside of going with a group and guide (and on a horse), but upside is I got to be totally present in all the amazing moments.

There was one moment we were all just getting use to managing our horses ("remember, they are animals with their own minds.. NOT robots" as the guide said), when the lead horse suddenly stopped and acted all suspicious, and bolted backwards, causing the entire pack to freak out and scatter like a bunch of flies. We all hung on for dear life screaming "helpppppmeeeeeehelpp" til God put his hand over us and calmed them down 😂😂 we laughed about it after, anyway it's much harder to stop them from bending down to eat when we wanted them to keep walking!


Tongariro National Park

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After the Blue Duck Station we left before the sun came up to the famous Tongariro National Park, location of the famous Mt. Doom from LOTR (Mount Ngauruho in real life). I was slightly not prepared for a 19km trek when they annouced that they'll drop us at the trailhead by 8am. There was a buzz of half awakened confusion and questions, but I filled my water bottle, bought a pack of bagels, and we all started on our way.

Again, one of the best things in travel is going into a situation with absolutely no idea what you'll see, then being blown away by views like this...

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We were blessed with amazing clear weather!

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Thanks Liz for helping me take some of these bomb photos 🙌


Wellington

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Excerpt from my travel journal:

"The more acquainted I get with a city, the harder it is for me to leave it. With memories of sitting on one particular bench for hours while eating an entire bar of chocolate, discovering cafes with free WiFi, knowledge of where all the public toilets are, and the way its streets smell after the rain. I won't forget the uphill road that made my lungs burn, the bar with weak tequila shots, the slide I chickened out on halfway, and the pain I felt on the first night of sleeping alone. Sometimes a city is kind enough to wrap your memories in a perfect little box with a ribbon on top. Wellington was one of them."

I'm one of those who like to walk around with my camera, hoping that i'll be somewhere at the right moment. I dont know about you, but this was it...

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After a couple days catching up with work, it was time to keep going. I popped my ferry cherry with a scenic ride from Wellington to Picton.


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On to the South Island!