Auckland and end of NZ

I am heading to Auckland where I will return my campervan. After clearing my stuff out of the van I hold my breath and await for any “damage” charges, especially since I broke and replaced those two dishes. Luckily everything is fine….I guess I have trust issues with car rental places.

They provide a ride but it doesn’t go very far and I need to get to Auckland proper. They drop me off at the train station though. I carry all my junk (plus extra things I haven’t yet tossed) on the train to the city center.

I check into my hotel and I am exhausted. Not really sure why but I feel sick but not sick if that makes sense. I had been planning on meeting up with a couple women I have met in past travels but I can’t seem to have the energy to nail down plans. I pick the wrong time to want to rest!

To be honest I really don’t do much in Auckland. I walk around only to get a couple meals. Otherwise my time is spent lazily. I am having another one of those lulls again. My laziness doesn’t end anytime soon because I start my really long travel in a day or two. I am changing to another continent and time zone, more about that in a little while.

I craved a bagel and it was nearby this sign that pretty much sums up my mood.

I do stop for some sushi and crayfish by the water. The crayfish is super expensive and I am disappointed. I waited this long to try this? It must be better in other regions of the country?

What???

My last meal in New Zealand is a salad – I am craving Halloumi once more but this salad grosses me out since the chicken looks and has texture like it is undercooked. The café insists the chicken is fine but it grosses me out.

I head to the airport. I am flying to Santiago Chile to recover from my jetlag. My next destination is South America. The flight to Chile seems like the shortest most reasonable place to stop to recover. I schedule a couple days here and hope I have time to do at least some city sightseeing or a wine region tour but I do almost nothing except sleep and go out to get a meal or two. I do end up watching the Superbowl at the hotel bar. The game is all in Spanish but it is a good time to brush up on the language since I am heading to Colombia next.

Hotel room menu

My time is totally wasted in Chile (unless you count restorative sleep) but I really hope to return again someday.

Whakarewarewa

Whakarewarewa the living Maori village

Today is a busy day since I visited Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland this morning and now I am heading to a Maori village experience. I’ve been interested in the Maori and have been waiting to do some cultural and educational event to learn more about the culture. My campsite in Rotorua recommends Whakarewarewa as a more authentic village to visit.

I arrive late afternoon and catch a tour a few minutes in. Unfortunately I miss out on a Maori geothermal cooked meal since I am late for lunch.

Our tour guide takes us around the village and explains the typical life of a villager.

Steam box for cooking
Sleeping hut

We learn about two unique ways of cooking: one is in a steam box another is in a steaming hot lake.

Hot box
Boiling Lake
Food is placed in a bag, attached to a rope and lowered into the water to cook.

We also learn how the geothermal heat is used for bathing.

We are taken further through the village where we are taken to a community building.

There is another geyser nearby and I am here just in time to see it erupt.

I didn’t arrive in time to taste a geothermal cooked meal but I am there in time to see a cultural show. It is nice to see the dances, some with props.

I finish my visit trying some corn.

I head back to the campsite to rest for the rest of the afternoon but it is hot out.

Van life is getting old.

I think it could have been the long drive the day before, or maybe it was the fact that I couldn’t get my milk for my coffee in the campsite kitchen until 7 AM (kitchen is locked overnight) – van life has taken a toll on me. I’m beginning to think that this might not be a long-term solution for me. I like the freedom and simplicity but sometimes the discomfort of van life is too much especially when you’re not feeling well. Yesterday and today are pretty hot and after a long day of sightseeing outdoors the last thing I want to do is go back to my van and sweat. The nail in the coffin is when I somehow run out of my 1 GB of free data even though I am barely on my phone and laptop the whole entire time I am there (wifi at campsites is lacking or spotty at best, most charge extra). I’m leaving the campsite and getting a hotel room. I can’t do this right now. This is technically my last night of van camping since I have a hotel tomorrow night and return the van in Auckland the day after. I could tough it out one more night but I just can’t do it tonight.

After a booking.com mix up I finally get a motel room. I have AC and wifi, the only downside is now I can smell the sulfur smell, even with the windows closed in my room. Luckily it doesn’t bother me too much.

At some point a couple days prior I stupidly drove off with a glass on the counter of my van and broke it (broken dish number 2 – they really should provide plastic dishes in these things). Luckily I returned to the same chain in a different city and replaced the broken glass with an almost match. Don’t tell the rental place! Hopefully they won’t notice the difference.

Punakaiki

Today I am heading further north. I am getting closer to ending my time on the south island of New Zealand. As I reach closer to the end I realize, as I have read in my planning, that I could have spent a month or more on just the south island alone. If I ever get a chance to return to this beautiful country then I still have so much more to see on my list.

But today I am spending the night in Punakaiki, famous for its blow holes and pancake rocks.

It was nice to sleep in a regular bed last night but tonight I am back at a campsite.

The campsite I am staying at, Punakaiki Beach Camp, is right off the beach. I don’t have a view of the beach but it is a short walk to the water. There are also great views of an interesting rock formation above.

View of campsite from the beach
Beach outside campsite

After I arrive I am hungry so I walk a couple blocks away and treat myself to a nice steak at Punakaiki Tavern outside at a cute patio.

After lunch I head up the road to see the famous rocks.

On my way I come across a cavern. I come to a crevice that seems like I would need to do some crawling to get access to the cave. Being by myself and no one else seemingly around I am too scared to explore further. Instead I just view the cave from the entrance. I wish I would have done research ahead of time because it looks pretty safe from the pictures online.

I continue up the hill toward the pancake rocks.

I have arrived at the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes Track, a 1 km loop that lets you view some interesting vegetation, flat stacked limestone rocks and water blowholes. The blowholes occur at high tide when the water enters caverns and the compressed air causes a pop when the waves come in. I have arrived just in time for some of the blowing to occur.

Origins of the pancake rocks are uncertain but they are seemed to be formed by organizisms many millions of years ago.

One area to observe blowholes
Another blow hole
Another blowhole area
walking path
view in the distance
view of the park

Walk back down to camp.

As I walk back to camp I watch the sun start setting.

I climb over some rocks and watch the waves crash up against them for a while before I walk along the beach back to the campsite.

I am back at the campsite and go to the very busy camp kitchen to prepare my dinner. Most of the tables near the kitchen are occupied by families so I find an empty spot on the nearby lawn. It isn’t long before the blackflies start ruthlessly attacking me. It is a beautiful evening and I would love to sit outside with a glass of wine but the bites are too much. I try a little bug spray but it doesn’t do much to help. I head back to my van to hang out “indoors”. There are flies that have made their way in the van and they buzz around me, threatening to bite me throughout the night. I am hoping I can hide under a blanket and they die of starvation.

Before I head to sleep it does get pitch dark. Without the light pollution I can actually see many stars outside. It is almost as good as my time in Wadi Rum when I got to lay on my back and admire the skies. I would spend more time outside except I want a piece of my body left that hasn’t been attacked by bugs.

Good night.

Queenstown

Note about my postings about my sabbatical….

I have been slowly trying to outpace the calendar when trying to document my travels. So far I’ve kept all my travel posts related to travel less than a year ago. As the new year begins I get closer and closer to that self-imposed marker when I am talking about travel that is more than a year ago.

I had high hopes on documenting my adventures as I went but mostly failed on this subject; with the exception of posts like these that are generated from my actual thoughts and feelings at the time. These posts tend to be more detailed and also lean more about my struggles when traveling. I tend to get the urge to write down my feelings more when I am having a challenging time verses a blissful time. You might see me talk about my struggles frequently but it is not representative of the majority of my travel. I actually had a large amount of moments of awe, bliss, and amazement – I just didn’t tend to journal those feelings along the way. So here I am trying to reconstruct things from my photos and that seems to take quite a long time.

Why am I telling you all these things? I guess I want to justify why it is taking me so long to document things and to give reasons for all the “holes” in my posts where I clinically describe experiences instead of conveying actual thoughts.

Anyhoo, a new year has begun in the “current world” and I look forward to traveling once again post COVID-19.

For now enjoy my adventures in Queenstown….

I admit I came into Queenstown in a bit of a mood. I am determined to not like it; partially because the internet told me “Wanaka is better” and partially because the bumper to bumper traffic on the way into here. I also have another case of travel fatigue. I have not even done any activity to really wear me down physically – no walking tracks or such. The long travel from Milford Sound to Queenstown did me in. I have another shoulda. I should have scheduled more time in this region in general.

I arrive to the campsite and I am on a mission to finish the bagged salad and other produce that will spoil any day now. I hunker down at my campsite that is eclectically decorated and has too few bathrooms and showers in my opinion (but it has yet to be a problem so why am I complaining).

“Too few bathrooms”

I wake up with no plan for the day. I thought about a trail walk or taking the gondola up the mountain and walking down but I do none of that.

What do I do instead? I drive 5 miles to Bed bath and Beyond and Kmart to buy pillows, a blanket and a yoga mat among other things.

Why pillows?

I am a woman over 40 who is a side sleeper but has discomfort with firmer mattresses and with traveling I have new shoulder pain. Sleeping in the van with one pillow and a firm mattress has been challenging so I buy a couple of pillows to strategically place to help me sleep better. Younger people won’t get it but trust me, once your sleep is “messed with“ it affects your entire life.

I buy a blanket is because I had one bitter cold night and I have been in fear that every night will be like that. Spoiler alert – I never need the blanket after that day.

The yoga mat is because I am hopeful I will do yoga…..well at least I will do my foot stretches on my injured foot.

…..enough of the old lady talk.

I find a bowl for $2 NZD to replace the one I broke in the camper on the first day; it doesn’t match exactly but is good enough.

Back to Queenstown…

I arrive back to the campsite and wait to have my phone to 100% before walking down to the town center to try the infamous Fergburger.

If you read about Queenstown and recommendations 99% of the time they will mention trying Fergburger. From what people write about the place it seems life changing. I came in with high expectations and was subsequently disappointed. I got in the line and I guess I got lucky because I only waited ten minutes; most wait much longer. After I order I wait at the bar and decide to go ahead and eat my burger at the bar. I guess I have had my fair share of spectacular burgers in my life so I find this one only average. It has too many peppercorns for my liking and the sauce is too sweet. On top of that they over salt the fries. I wish I would have ordered one of the other interesting sounding sandwiches like the one called the Codfather.

I make up for the burger disappointment by going to the ice cream place next door. I try some interesting flavors at Mrs Ferg Gelateria.

I take my ice cream for a walk and finally start to enjoy the beautiful afternoon.

I walk down by the water and enjoy the views.

Along a path I take I see picnics and people walking a tightrope (seems to be a Queenstown pastime called slacklining).

I end up at a beach café, The Bathhouse, and order some wine at a table right on the beach. It gets warm in the sun but otherwise a perfect day to look out at the water.

After my wine I continue my walk over to a nearby park, Queenstown Gardens. I enjoy the gardens and the nice views from the penisula.

I head back toward the more busy part of town and happen upon some bagpipers.

And then eventually at a fun boat bar.

Having a glass of wine as the day ends while overlooking great views is a great way to end a day that started sour. My stay here is short but Queenstown you are a nice stop.

Te Anau to Milford Sound

This morning I am heading to Te Anau. Te Anau is just an overnight stop on my way to Milford Sound. I could drive straight to Milford Sound in a day but it is a long drive so I choose to break it up with an overnight in Te Anau instead.

From Moeraki the drive takes about 4 hours or so. I don’t stop too much on the way except a time or two for health breaks and great views.

Love these flowers!

I am running low on gas so I am happy when I find a rest stop Alpine Centre Cafe & Bar – almost at Te Anau – where I see a newly sheared alpaca who wants some snacks.

I am pleased that my holiday park for the night is right around the corner from the rest stop.

Te Anau Lakeview Kiwi Holiday Park

I have an ok view of the lake below lake of Te Anau.

I also have a great view of my neighbors laying out their sock collection on the picnic table.

I haven’t scheduled much time in Te Anau but what I do schedule is a glow worm tour. This is my chance to better see glow worms since I was a wimp staying out after dark by myself in Australia.

The glow worm tour is a cruise across a lake to a cave where they can be observed. I drive down to the port to catch my boat after I settle in at the campsite (settle in = put my perishables in the refrigerator).

Te Anau Glow Worm Caves Tour

We start off with a breezy boat ride ride on the lake. I take in the breathtaking views as we cross the lake.

Once on shore they split us to two groups. My group tours the area around the cave while the tour guide talks about wildlife and the vegetation.

Then we enter into the cavern house where we learn about the glow worms and are given special safety instructions for the viewing. Glow worms are actually fungus gnats in their larvae stage. They glow to attract prey that they feed on and appear in the darkness. Tour guides do not let us take pictures or video inside so I’ll try to best describe the experience: First we walk into a cave along a series of platforms. It gets progressively darker inside. I can start to see little bits of the worms in the moist parts of the cave above and beside us. We eventually get to a set of stairs that lead to a platform where there is a little boat. There are two long benches where our group splits along facing outwards the boat to the sides. There is a boat guide who has a light as we board but after we are safely boarded turns off this light and guides the boat only by grabbing a chain above and pulling us down a water tunnel. At first it isn’t very impressive. Just faint glows but eventually we float to areas with more densely populated worms. Our guide tells us to look up and he glides us by and turns the boat around so all have a great view of the glowing above. We go through a couple sections of these before we return to the start to walk back out the tunnel.

Cavern house where we are educated on the worms

There are multiple scheduled times of the viewings so we wait for our boat to return with another group by the shore.

Soon we take the boat ride back to our starting location. The temperature has dropped and the wind is strong. Only a few of us brave the ride on the top. I spent so much of my travels hot so I take advantage of this moment of coldness; although I regret it later in the evening when I cannot get warm in my van.

Boat ride back

Once back to the campsite I prepare my dinner and head to bed. It is late but still light out. It is January but I have to remember this is their summer and the sun sets later.

That evening the campervan is so cold so it makes me want buy another blanket. I have a hard time getting comfortable to get a restorative sleep. I don’t see any stores on my way to my next location so I hope I’ll be ok for the next few days.

Next morning drive to Milford Sound

In the morning I am driving to my next campsite in Milford Sound. I’ve been warned about the narrow, curvy roads and tunnels of this part of the drive. I am nervous but I’ll take it slow and drive during the day.

It is on this drive that my GPS starts to crap out on me. Luckily I have backup systems like google and maps.me and the drive route seems pretty straight forward.

This isn’t very helpful

There are a couple stops along the way as well as some walking tracks. I unfortunately do not schedule time for any walking tracks, New Zealand is too big of a country! I do make a couple photo stops though.

Cascade Creek Road

Cascade Creek Road
Cascade Creek Road
Gertrude Valley Lookout

The drive takes somewhere between 3 to 4 hours. I stop along way many times and drive slower than the speed limit just to be safe. Most of the ride is pretty easy but the last probably 45 minutes is the most challenging part: narrow and curvy roads, inclines and declines, and the famous tunnel everyone talks about. The tunnel goes through a mountain and only allows for traffic in one direction but a light outside each side lets the traffic flow in.

It is really interesting driving through the tunnel but don’t get me wrong I’d probably feel different if I was driving through at night or in inclement weather. I am lucky because the weather is spectacular.

So I have arrived at my campsite which happens to be the smallest I’ve had so far but the facilities are nice. The real annoying part of the stay is the sandflies. They are eating me alive here. It is my first real run-in with them in New Zealand. I’ve been keeping score with all my run-ins with wildlife and I’ll add this to the list of my enemies: geckos, monkeys, fur seals and now sandflies.

Itty bitty camp site

I check into the campsite and look at the list of all the great walking tracks I probably won’t get to do while I am here.

I empty out the icebox of my van and take the goods to the refrigerator of the campsite in order to keep things cold since the chill box only works when the van is on. I am tempted to eat dinner at the fancy restaurant at Milford Lodge tonight but I must finish my perishables since they probably won’t keep for my upcoming daytime activities. I contemplate leaving my groceries in the lodge fridge while I am out on my cruise tomorrow; you are supposed to date your goods with your checkout date but how will they know if I fudge the date a bit?

View of the campsite office from my spot

The sandflies are ruthlessly attacking me. I hide out in the van with the windows shut and nap. The nap is well needed. I didn’t quite sleep well last night because it was much cooler than I expected; I was kept awake because I could not get warm enough. I wake up from my nap but still too tired to do any walking around or exploring right now so I purchase a gigabyte of data to surf the web (15 NZD in these parts!). Best to save my energy for the Milford Sound cruise tomorrow and the drive to Queenstown afterwards.

Trapped in my van looking at the great view.

I head to the kitchen and lounge and prepare my dinner.

penne with pesto, green peppers and tomatoes.

I am actually lucky to get into this campsite, Rainforest Campervan Park, since it is the only one near Milford Sound and limited in space. It isn’t cheap though. There are posh cabins that can be reserved as well. They have a spectacular view.

I’m jealous of the great views of the cabins. At least I don’t have a long drive in the morning to make my Milford Sound cruise.