52 Weeks Filled with Mementos

Welcome to a New Year, Welcome to a New Blog –

While everyone is stowing away their christmas ornaments for another year, I’m stowing my life away for another quest. Most likely the biggest one so far as I am leaving with no actual expiration date on my adventure. And this my friends is so liberating and scary at the same time.

And now I am sitting here in my room filling boxes with stuff I have gathered over the  years. More than ready to toss out those old cds from the 90s with embarrassing songs and that leather jacket I never wore because I bought it too small in the first place. Golden rule is, if you have never used it or wore it in the last year, toss it. Except for momentos. A lot of mementos from my travels I simply can’t throw out. It is just too damn precious. The memories you made, the experiences you encountered, the people you met on your road of life. Cherish every single on them. From the awkward little love note from your high school sweetheart to the drunken polaroid group shot from your trip overseas or that awesome pebble you found in the Mongolian Desert last year.

Still trying to decide to do something original with these momentos and take them with me or just leave them in the shoeboxes at leave them at my moms’ for now. Any ideas are more than welcome in the comments.

So here is to a New Year, A New Life and another 52 weeks filled with Mementos, which I will try to share with you on a weekly basis. Hope you and I both enjoy the memories we will make this year.

There will be Rain

Welcome to Franz Josef Glacier, one of the wettest places on earth.

Be prepared to have a rainy day during your stay here in this beautiful place on earth that is squeezed between the mountains and the ocean and creates its own special micro climate.

This tiny village is a mandatory stop along the scenic Highway 6 between Greymouth and Queenstown and has a handful of great things to offer for everyone.

Going for a hike ?

Well, needless to say, this lush area has plenty of hikes to offer. If you have only a couple of hours to kill the most famous and visited one would be the Franz Josef Glacier Walk that departs from the village. If you don’t feel like doing the walk or don’t have the time you can take your car up to the Franz Josef Glacier Car Park. From there it is a half an hour walk to the end of the trail where you can have some views of the retreating glacier. The sights of the glacier might be a tiny bit disappointing to you so if you would like to see the glacier in full glory you’ll have to dig deeper into your pockets and arrange a helicopter tour over the glacier. These helicopters tours depart from the village and need to be booked well in advanced as on some days the unsteady weather might give the helicopter tour companies very limited windows to fly out to give you a clear view of the glacier. IMG_9867Got some more time and want to get away from the crowds on a more challenging track ? Great ! Two of my favourite hikes in Franz Josef would be Alex Knob and Roberts Point.  These two tracks are both considered a day trip and you should prepare well for these hikes (water, food, appropriate hiking gear). The views on top won’t disappoint. IMG_0092Thirsty ?

After you return from a day around the glacier you must be hungry and parched. The village offers something for everyone. The Landing and King Tiger might be your best options to fill your tummy while Full of Beans might have a good cup of coffee for you.

And at night ?

Looking for something to do at night ? There is even a brand new movie theater in town which is playing the newest movies out there and if you want to go for a good drink after then Monsoon is your place to go. You drink, they pour….

But always have a rain jacket handy… because there will be rain. But keep in mind, it is up to you to go outside with your rain jacked in the rain and have a laugh with your friends or complain in your room about the shitty weather outside. This place remains a very beautiful place, even with a little rain involved.

West Coast Drive

At the break of dawn, I am rolling myself out of a bed in a dark dorm room and gather my stuff into my backpack. Wouldn’t be survived if I lost a couple socks in there.

Time to get some fresh air during my morning walk to the bus station. This would be a long but very scenic ride from Nelson all the way to Franz Josef. A fantastic drive along the West Coast of Southern New Zealand. Filled with hugs between the highway and the coastline.

The bus ride makes its way Murchison, known for its whitewater rafting, and swings it way from there to the coast close to Westport. From there, your eyes get a six-hour treat on beautiful ocean views.

IMG_9638Make sure to make a stop at Punakaiki to see the famous funny shaped Pancake Rocks and get blown away by the thunderous sound of the blowhole (check the tides online before visiting but expect a higher volume of visitors during that time). I was lucky cause the rest stop of the bus ride was just during high tide and then you get the full spectacle of the blowhole. 

 

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From there the windy road continues until Greymouth, the biggest city on the West Coast. From here a lot of passengers transfer to the Tranzalpine. This train takes you through the beautiful Alps of New Zeland all the way to Christchurch. Beside from that the city seems to leave me with a rather sad impression. The once economical thriving city now seemed to have its better days behind it.

A few miles further, at Kumara Junction, you have one last chance to decide  if you are making your way east to Christchurch over Arthur’s Pass or if you are further down the West Coast. The bus driver chose the latter one.

The next stop you will come across is Hokitika, a cozy little touristy town to make a stop for fuel for the car and for yourself. There are plenty of eateries and a big supermarket available to satisfy the stomach. There are a lot of artists in town that you can see at work during one of their workshops if you have the time.

From there on the road continues inland and after a couple hours we finally arrived at Franz Josef, my new home for the next three months. Of course it started raining when I arrived. If only I knew that it was just the start of it…

The bus driver waived me goodbye and I made my way to my new job in this little cozy village on the West Coast, one of the wettest places on earth. IMG_0020

Layover in Nelson

I woke up early in my dorm room in Picton. Today I wanted to reach Nelson as soon as possible to meet up with my good friend Julia (you might remember her from previous escapades).

Because the bus to Nelson was only leaving around noon I wanted to beat this by hitchhiking my way there. During my time on the North Island I’ve seen my share of backpackers hitchhiking along the way. So, I packed my bags again and walked down the main road in Picton that leads to the Highway 1.

I must admit the first ride was the hardest. Some competition further down the road and not a lot of traffic heading down this way is making me think of taking the bus after all. But then my first ride stops and asks me where I’m going. After sharing my final destination of the day he offers me a ride until Blenheim. Sounds good to me. At least I’m out of this starting point.

Meet Bill, an architect who has been on a lot of adventures himself but now settled down in Blenheim. He drops me off on a busy road at the intersection of Highway 1 and Highway 6.

Thumbs up ! Time passes but no car is stopping anymore. I decide to relocate to a better spot where they can pick me up and encounter another hitchhiker, Fritz. He looks agitated with my arrival but I follow the unofficial guidelines of the hitchhiker and wait in line until he catches a ride. Trying to make conversation doesn’t seem to interest him as he is keeping his eyes on the road and up to the morning sky that is getting darker.

As I am grabbing something out of my backpack Fritz seemed to have luck and got a ride. Without having me aboard he just flees with his new ride. Thanks for the invitation Fritz,  Auf Wiedersehen, maybe not…

And then it starts raining.

An elderly lady passes by and sees me getting wet and picks me up to prevent me from getting a nasty flu. I am grateful. 5 minutes down the road she stops the car and tells me she is home. At least she gave me shelter for a couple minutes and brought me to another place to catch a new ride.

Not much later a new ride stops to pick me up, Tyler. Tyler just finished his shift at the gas station and is on his way to the Pelorus Bridge where he is meeting with his dad to go hiking in the area. We talk about what great of country New Zealand is as we drive through Havelock, a town that dedicated its soul to the Green Mussel.

At the Pelorus Bridge, famous from the barrel scene with the dwarves in The Hobbit I thank Tyler and try to find my next ride. In the meantime the bus already left Picton so I hope to at least beat the arrival time of the bus I was gonna take today.

Half an hour of standing there around the corner of the bridge until a couple picks me up. Jessica and Lucas. They are on their way to Cable Bay and can help me a bit further. They give me really helpful tips about bars and please to go in Nelson.

They drop me off at a lonely gas station right before their exit to Cable Bay. It seems like a good spot to catch a ride and not much later Boris pulls over. I opened the door and asked if he was going to Nelson. He mumbled with a very low voice. I guess that was a yes. Boris was a man of few words and a road temper on a fuse but soon enough I learned he had a good heart when he wanted to drop me off in Nelson but I couldn’t figure out where the hostel was. He drove me through the town twice and tried to make some calls before I ended up at the right place. We say a brief farewell.

Time to check in my hostel. Really liked the atmosphere here at Tasman Bay Backpackers.  Not much later Julia knocks on my door and we go explore Nelson. We end up on top of the hill with nice views over Nelson. Enough exploring for today. Time for a drink before we go home as I have a early bus leaving tomorrow to Franz Josef, my new home for the new couple of months.

A great place to go for a drink in town would be Sprig & Fern

Well… with Julia it’s never just A drink… before we know it we are into the seventh consecutive happy hour of the night… The last moments of the night are still a vague memory but I believe there was some pool games involved. See you next time Julia ! Together with Ron, a dutch guy from my hostel we make our way back to the hostel.

A few hours later the alarm goes off again. Did I even sleep ?

Oh these Nelson Nights…

Off to the Bus Station for a long but scenic ride to Franz Josef !

Lake Pukaki

If you were impressed with Lake Tekapo, then you definitely will be stunned by the beauty of its bigger sister, Lake Pukaki.

The drive around the lake is very scenic and deserves some stops. While you are driving and if the weather permits it, you will see Mount Cook appear.

One of them is Peter’s Lookout along Highway 80 (also known as Mount Cook Road). From here you can take a bunch of postcard photos but make sure you save some space and batteries for your next stop, Mount Cook Village !

Lake Tekapo

We survived our first night with the three of us in a two person tent.

The summer is noticeably gone with much cooler temperatures at night. We wake up to a grey sky morning at Mc Gregor Lake, which is only a short drive from Lake Tekapo.

After our breakfast at the lake and getting a full tank we were ready to drive up to the rooftop of New Zealand, Mount Cook National Park.

 

Te Paki Sand Dunes

After being (almost literally) blown away by the stunning Cape Reinga you can trade your windproof jacket for a boogie board and go diving off massive sand dunes.

It’s a drastic change of scenery from the hills in Scotland to the Sahara Desert in just a half hour drive.

Don’t have a boogie board with you in your backpack ? No problem, there are some local farmers who seem to have found a way to earn some extra cash beside their potatoes and dairy products. You can rent a boogie board for 10 NZD on your way to the sand dunes and return them at the end of the day. Keep an eye open for the signs and if you’ve missed those signs, you most likely can still get one from a pop up boogie board rental place at the sand dunes as well.

The climb to the top of the sand dune is a bit of a struggle when you take two steps uphill and slide one back down. But trust me, the dive down is worth the effort.

My friend Julia took it one step further by (accidentally) sliding sideways and making an impressive roll down the sand. It was definitely not her day but she took the fall like a trooper. Just make sure you lay down on the boogie board with your head first.

CHEAP BASTARD TIP : If you want to make this trip in combination with Cape Reinga and you don’t have your own car you can always look into renting a car for the day and fill the seats with travel friends and make your own trip.

We rented a car from Paihia for 24 hours and did the whole trip at our own pace. With a group of five we paid 36 NZD each for the car rental and gas.

Cape Reinga

New Zealand, land of immense beauty and undeniable contrasts. Cut in two by the Cook Strait, one of the most treacherous straits in the world. The best world deal you can get because you get two pieces of kiwi gold for the price of one.

Starting off in the very north of the country is where my journey begins, the mystical Cape Reinga. It is here where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean clash and fight a spectacular eternal battle which sometimes results in waves that are over 10 meter high.

In the middle of this breathtaking cape sits one single sacred pohutukawa tree between the rocks. According to the Maori legend this was the place where the spirits of the dead left land and entered the afterlife.

The road to Cape Reinga may be paved with good intentions but it surely is a long and curvy way.

Our friend Julia wasn’t too pleased with these road conditions. Or maybe it had something to do with the bottle(s) of red wine we had the night before.

Luckily you get some stunning views along the way to ease her stomach for a bit.

South Western Australia : From Albany to Perth

A lot of travelers make this typical trip along the coast and I can’t blame them. Leaving Albany this road is one stretch of nice beaches, winding roads through lush forests and little cozy towns.

Denmark is one of those. Here you can discover the Greens Pool. A great spot for snorkelling and strolling along the beach. Don’t forget to bring a visit to the Elephant Rocks around the corner.

Walpole is your next stop along the way. Here you can visit the Valley of the Giants Tree Top Walk where you can see the typical gigantic tingle trees. If you want to skip the tourist spot and the fees, there is another giant tingle tree you can see for free a little further down the road along Hilltop Road. This is a one-way route that brings you to a trail where you can see the old lady in full flesh. Yes, I was talking about the tree.

Pemberton – Another great cool hangout spot where you find a lot of backpackers. Test your climbing skills over here and climb up the Gloucester Tree. This giant Karri tree used to be a fire lookout but is now a popular attraction. Car parking costs you 12 AUD.

Busselton is a great place to hang around. You can go for a drink in the downtown area or stroll along the boardwalk. Walking down the 2 kilometer long Busselton Jetty is the main thing to do and is free in the morning and evening (costs 3 AUD between 9 AM and 6 PM).

Rottnest Island Adventures

Last weekend I was invited to join some friends on a Rottnest Island Adventure.

Rottnest Island is a little island before the coast of Perth and a popular tourist destination, especially for day tourists. A ferry goes daily from Perth to the island. On the island there are no cars allowed except for the bay seeker bus that runs around the island to drop off or pick up passengers at the designated stops.

The island got its name because of the quokkas. They look like little happy kangaroos and are scattered over the island. But when the Dutch explorers discovered this island in the 17th century they mistook them for big rats and called the island a true rat nest. The quokkas  can only be found on the island and managed to survive all this time because they don’t have any predators lingering around.

An other animal I encountered was a dugite. This pretty venomous snake was just chilling along the beach when I passed it. It was my first snake encounter since I got here in Australia.

A popular thing to do in Rottnest Island is doing a bike tour around the island. It offers a handful of great stops along the way. Since I visited the island on a weekday and it wasn’t high season yet I sometimes was riding my bike with not a single soul in sight. It felt like I was the last man on earth especially after 3.30 PM when all the day tourists were on their way back to Perth on the last ferry. Please also note that most of the tours that are offered on the island along the trail will end around 2.30 – 3 PM (like the lighthouse tour) in case you stay the night on the island.

Cape Vlamingh is the furthest point you can go on the island and the views won’t disappoint you.

Rotto (how the Aussies call Rottnest Island) is surrounded with heaps of white sandy beaches and coral blue water, a true paradise for snorkelers and a perfect romantic getaway.