Alas, all good things come to an end, my time in New Zealand has drawn to a close. After twenty five hours in the air, and a fifteen hour stop over in Singapore Airport, the two storied Airbus jet that flew me home touched down at Heathrow. With nought but a gentle judder as the landing gear tyres kissed the tarmac, I was back in Blighty. Reality, at the same time, hit with a crashing sickening thump. I had finished my adventure. I no longer could just do what I wanted, go where I wanted or when I wanted because I had to return to work. I may never again get the opportunity to do anything like that ever again, and that made me sad. I adored every minute of it, every morning when I woke up I looked out of the window (or unzipped the tent entrance) and thought to myself ‘I’m in New Zealand… Wow!’ I looked forward to the time I could sit down and put fingers to keyboard and tell you all about it, because that made it feel like more of an adventure and not just another holiday. I felt like I was writing not only for myself, but for everyone back home. I really did smile every time I got an email saying someone had clicked the ‘Like’ button on my blog, because it felt as if I was talking to someone, that I had company even in the remotest areas.
In the time I had I met some amazing people, shared noodles and stories with kiwis and fellow travellers alike of many different nationalities. I got to experience first hand what it is like for the people of Christchurch after ‘The Big One’, and felt the ground shake myself in two (albeit smaller, thank God) earthquakes just before Christmas. I went skydiving for the first time, picked up hitchhikers (never again!), and stayed in many different places.
Before I left for New Zealand, whenever I told anyone of my plans they would smile and nod, then say something like “You’ll not want to come home.” or “Anything to get away from Britain, there’s nothing here.” I would smile and nod and remind them of my own return ticket that I had bought. I had to come back, I had no other choice and besides, ‘There’s no place like home!’
I suppose with hindsight I would have done some things differently to save money, like not buying the van and instead opting for a cheaper estate car with a tent (or just shoving a mattress in the back). That way I could have also bought a bicycle and a bike rack and had everything with me without the horrendous fuel cost. Had I done that, I wouldn’t have needed to buy a bus ticket and I could have done the North Island in the same way as I had done the South Island. I’d also would’ve had the added bonus of being able to delve deeper into the spectacular countryside on the bike. But then, I wouldn’t have been able to give a balanced (I hope) opinion of the Kiwi Experience bus, and so wouldn’t have had a different twist on the journey.
I’m going to give a roundup of some of the stuff that I may have missed, or not mentioned very much.
In New Zealand, where ever you go to dine out the food is usually of a very good to high standard. Even in what would be considered a greasy spoon cafe, everything tasted as if thought had gone into the production of the meal, rather than just dished up and microwaved. Almost everything had a sprig of greenery, a flourish of artistry, a touch of something that when your eyes take the first bite, they rarely mislead the mouth. Sometimes I felt bad in putting a knife and fork through something that was more like a work of art. I think this is because the stuff you get in the supermarkets is somehow sadly lacking, so the kiwis make up for it in the restaurants. There are two main chains, Countdown and New World. Along with them is Pak ‘n’ Save, a discount store similar to the old Netto shops, and Four Square, that cropped up in the smaller towns like our Co-Ops. From what I gleaned, and without checking this up (so I could be wrong, but I’m sure I read it somewhere) the last two are owned buy the first two. These two, however, have been caught in a price fixing scandal and have been criticised for blocking foreign chains from opening their own stores. They both stock a tiny selection of foreign imported goods, but these are twice the price of the New Zealand products (in New World, they have an ‘International’ stand, selling mainly British stuff. You can buy a can of Irn Bru for the equivalent of two pounds.) The kiwi stuff is limited to one or two brands per product, so for example in the canned food aisle (where I spent much of my time) you’d get either ‘Watties’ or ‘Pams’, the first giving you what you’d expect and the other being the one that gives one chunk of chicken in its chicken soup. Also, there seems to be only one company that does all the pre packed salad, it’s not done in store, like in Britain. I once bought a Greek salad that turned out to only contain lettuce, with a sachet of salad dressing. Mmmm!!!
The Award for the Best Meal goes to….. The Shoreline Cafe & Restaurant in Kaiteriteri! Their Eggs Benedict looked like an art exhibit and tasted like it had been crafted by a surgeon who specialised in stimulating the good bits of your tastebuds.
The YaBoo! Award for Worst Meal goes to…. New World! Selling me a box of nothing but lettuce really showed their lack of commitment to quality!
At the start of my travels, I was drinking beer. At the end, I was drinking wine even though I had never even considered buying wine back home (I will say now, I know nothing of wine or its three types, Red – White and Mixed, but I was told time and again by many people that Kiwi wine is world class, so I’ll leave it at that). This is because, after due consideration and taking into account (drinking) many of the different brands, I came to the conclusion that Kiwi beer all comes from the same barrel. They just stick a different label on and maybe a touch of colouring to make them look like they’re brewed by opposing companies. This is not only my opinion, I compared notes with people of many nationalities who agreed. Regardless of whether I was drinking what was described as an ‘ale’ or ‘pilsner’ or ‘stout’, all it turned out to be was a fizzy lager type of thing. It didn’t matter which bar you went into, or which brand you ordered, there is very little to distinguish between them. It didn’t help by the fact that the alcohol content is low by British and European standards, that it’s expensive in the supermarkets and bars, and that usually ‘a pint’ is the generic term for ‘a large glass’ usually of around 440 ml (but not always). Whilst you can buy Australian beer in the UK, when did you ever see a Kiwi one? You haven’t, for good reason. There is one exception though in this lake of blandness. In Wanaka whilst drinking with Peter the German, we discovered a beer that had flavour, body, and went down faster than Anglo German relations after a football match. It even came in a proper pint glass. So…
The Award for Best Beer goes to….Brewski, of Wanaka Beerworks! On a hot day, with fine company, (Cheers Peter! Good Luck in Oz!) this stuff ticked every box a Brit and a German had.
A second prize goes to my mate in Christchurch for brewing his own beer and not letting the side down by becoming a wine-ist.
The YaBoo! Award for Worst Beer goes to…. D B Beer. I’ve only two words to say in regard to this stuff, Avoid It.
Places to Stay
Depending on your budget you can stay in anything from luxury hotels to a tent behind the cattle sheds on a farm. Most of the fun in travelling centres around accommodation, and I’m sure everyone has there own list of places. But these are my awards…
The Award for Best Campsite goes to…. Counties Camping in Auckland! I was made welcome from day one, the place was peaceful and well maintained and whilst the weather was a bit hit and miss I got a fantastic suntan!
The YaBoo! Award for Worst Campsite goes to…. Queenstown Motor Camp! They charged excessively for what they gave, basically a parking space. They charged for the showers, over charged for milk and made everything feel controlled and sterile. A no fun place in a fun town.
The Award for Best Hostel goes to…. Jail House Accommodation, Christchurch. In an industry that makes it’s money by cramming in the most people into the least space, at least this place has an interesting story and building to go with it.
The YaBoo! Award for Worst Hostel goes to…. The judges have split the award between Base Hostel Wellington, and the YMCA Hostel in Auckland. Whilst both were clean and did what they said they would do, I hated the feeling of being ‘processed,’ that I was just another hassle in the running of the place. The beds were better at the YMCA, but you couldn’t sleep because of old windows and the feeling of everything being wafer thin, and the ill informed staff didn’t help. In Wellington, sleep was almost impossible because of other peoples’ noise.
Well, that’s it. Thank you everyone who helped make my adventure ‘an adventure’! Thanks to you all for clicking the ‘Like’ button. Thanks in advance to the people who are going to buy my forth coming book that includes all of these blogs, plus much more information and many more photographs. I’m making a proper travel book out of it all! If you want to know more about this, you can get in touch by replying to any of these articles as I get an email notifying me of each one. Incidentally, if anyone from the travel industry would like me to visit and write about their place, or any destination please, for the love of god, please get in touch!