We arrived at the Land of the Maoris very late in the evening, caught our Uber and got to our Airbnb shared apartment in the outskirts of Auckland. The key waited for us in a mini safe by the door, as our host was already sleeping in his room. Strange feeling, to enter your accommodation on tiptoe, not to wake your yet-to-meet host up. We met him the next day… a funny, easygoing kiwi (in case you didn’t know, kiwis are not only fruits and birds, but also the people from New Zealand). The highlight of our interaction with this guy was when he told us about his former Bolivian girlfriend, whom he had left because “having a latin girl is like owning a Ferrari… they can look so damn good, but once you have one, they are soooo high-maintenance.”. Haha.. loved it. (Sandra not so much).
I mentioned the Maoris …that was the first big difference we saw, compared to Australia and its 100’s (or is it 1000’s?) of aboriginal tribes. The Maoris are THE aboriginal race here, and they are very present in the society, their language included.
And speaking of Australia, never make the mistake (like…err… a friend did in the beginning) of putting NZ and Australia in the same bucket … it’s like saying The Netherlands and Germany are the same. Big mistake. To begin with, NZ is SO MUCH younger as a civilization… it was one of the last land masses settled by humans, some 800 years ago (yup, 800)… about 50,000+ years after people were already happily eating roasted kangaroo in Australia. If you come across a sign saying “historic site”…it’s probably a bridge built in the 1950’s or something similar. They do have some historical merits though, like being the first country ever to allow women to vote, back in 1893.
– sexy female voters –
Also, remember the many “wild fauna” signs back in Australia? Well, here the only native land mammal is a not-too-impressive little bat. And so on go the differences.
Anyway…we started off very well on the financial side… first we found this “everything for 1 dollar” second-hand shop and got all the warm clothes we would need for 10 bucks (which also meant we took our backpacks to the limit of their capacity). The next day we found a “relocation” deal for a campervan. 13 days to drive it from Auckland to Christchurch, for one dollar per day, cost of the ferry to the South Island included! Awesome deal. From then on, everything was just plainly (and painfully) expensive. Including the 150-dollars fine I got for only slowing down to 1 kilometer per hour instead of fully stopping at a stop sign.
– bring it on, weather –
And then we were three
I think this is a good moment to introduce you to Pepito. “Pepito” is the name of a supermarket chain in Indonesia. It was our second week, back in June, when we got this canvas bag from them. Over time it became the dedicated place for our toiletries, so phrases like “have you seen Pepito?” or “I’m taking Pepito with me!” have become as common as “good morning”. Tom Hanks had Wilson, well we have Pepito.
– going for a shower with Pepito –
What to see, what to do?
I once read a good piece of advice, about long term traveling, which suggested to focus on “doing things” rather than simply “seeing things”. We are trying to live up to that motto and I have to agree that our most memorable moments thus far are around activities we did, more than about sights we saw.
NZ might be an exception, though. Colors of the nature here are over-saturated by default. You come across such impressive landscapes that just driving around the country was a feast for the eyes. I can’t recall how many times we stopped in the middle of nowhere just to enjoy the view. Here, they can’t possibly use that phrase about wanting your neighbor’s grass, because yours will most likely be as green as grass can be, if not greener.
Lots of greens but also lots of blues in the waters, yellows and lavenders in the flowers, whites on the peaks and blacks, browns and grays in the rocks and ever-present limestone. Limestone, by the way, in some places looks like purposely sculpted, like it would be the ruins of a man-made ancient something. But no. It was mother nature all alone. Very impressive. Small sample of landscapes here below.
Everything is so beautiful that over time you risk being not-so-impressed with what you see. That’s a big mistake you need to consciously avoid. Yes, that might be the 12th majestic waterfall you see today, but yes, it’s still freaking impressive!
One thing we noticed is that guidebooks kind of force the existence of “highlights” in every small town, however beyond enjoying the nature and action sports-based activities, in general there’s not THAT much to do, really (bathing in geothermal pools counts as enjoying nature). At least that was our impression, perhaps because we didn’t have the budget to do all the skydiving/bungee jumping/rafting/kayaking/mountain biking and many other tour-based touristic activities, which can be a little bit too expensive for what they are, if you ask me.
We did pick and choose some, of course, but what we did the most -and for free- was walking/hiking/trekking (never understood the differences in those terms). Here they call it “tramping”. They should call it “stair-climbing” … man have we gone up and down 1000’s of stairs. Anyhow, we loved tramping !… it was also a perfect excuse to not get distracted by books or technology or anything and just talk… I found that during the walks we had the longest, most relaxed conversations about anything and everything.
– keep walking –
One of the best walks (aka tramps) was definitely the Tongariro alpine crossing, a formidable 20km climb/walk across amazingly changing landscapes and featuring a volcano which looked just like Arequipa’s -the city where I was raised- mighty Misti. During this walk we met Roberto, a funny Argentinean we would then give a ride to Wellington, listening to Argentinian rock from the 80s and visiting what Sandra had read was the prettiest town in NZ (where the average age turned out to be around 83). Good days.
– grande Roberto, never pony !-
Cook. James Cook. Captain Cook was to Australia and New Zealand what Columbus was to the Americas. But there are SO MANY things named after him. Bridges, rivers, mountains, streets, malls, universities, bakeries, laundries, you name it. It is a bit strange to see them “honoring” their colonizer so much, in times when you hear more and more about the terrible ways in which the aboriginal people were (mis)treated. Both in Australia and here. I don’t know enough of their history and roots to have a solid opinion, though, so I’ll leave it there.
One last random fact before moving to more specifics… Any kiwi who might be reading this, please explain why, oh why, can’t you have a “normal” mixing faucet at bathroom sinks? Most of the time you’ll find one for the cold water, one for the hot water. How do you then wash your hands with lukewarm water? And don’t tell me you fill the sink, mixing water to the right temperature, every time you wash your hands. Oh well.
– frozen or burnt? you choose –
Now the usual specifics about our route. As you can see here below, we covered a decent portion of both the North and the South Island … I’ll try to make it shorter this time.
To begin with, I already said driving was a pleasure by itself, for all that you see while on the road. Remember the picture on that milk cardboard, with happy cows on green hills, snowy peaks and blue skies in the background? Well it exists. Small sample from what you can see from behind the wheel:
– on the road again… ♪ ♫ ♪ –
Driving was a bit trickier here than in Australia, though… far less signaled and filled with one-way bridges. Really, what’s with the one-way bridges?… I know they must have saved billions when building them, but I still don’t get it. Even in the major highways, you will eventually have to wait and give way to the oncoming traffic, because of a one-way bridge. I’m so glad I wasn’t driving one of those wide motor homes.
– red arrow, you wait, black arrow, you go –
Northlands in a campervan
As said, we first drove from Auckland to Christchurch with the relocation-deal campervan.
Auckland didn’t impress us. They say it’s a “Sydney for beginners”. Nah, we’d stick to Sydney without hesitating, sorry. It’s a nice city, but I don’t think it would make it to our “would-love-to-live-here” list.
The center of the North Island we did love. Amazing geothermal activity around Rotorua and Taupo, the alpine crossing walk I talked about, in Tongariro, interesting Maori villages, caves with glowworms and a cliché -and expensive- but still cool visit to the Lord of the Rings movie set in Hobbiton.
And in case you are wondering what a Haka looks like -and not the one you’ve probably seen on a Rugby field-, here’s one:
Wellington, at the very bottom of the North Island, deserves a few more words. This btw is where you take the ferry to cross to the South Island throught the -wait for it-Cook strait!
As you might know -or not- Peru recently played against NZ in the play-offs for Russia 2018. The very last spot for the World Cup was at stake. The first match -of 2- was to be played in Wellington, so we could not NOT go. We were forced to backtrack, as the timing didn’t really play in our favor, so we flew back from Christchurch to Wellington…and it was more than worth it. I never thought I would ever see so many Peruvians gathered in a city outside of Peru. Streets infested with Peruvian shirts and flags. Amazing feeling, here on the other side of the world.
After a rather disappointing 0-0 -would have loved to yell “Goal” in that packed stadium-, we went to the “official Peruvian after-party” with Alonso, a Peruvian friend we had already met a few days before. There we got to see more than a few funny -Peruvian- characters. Like Ricardo, who, satisfied with just a picture next to two sensually-dressed local blondes, didn’t push it to try to get some more. When I tried to encourage him he said “I’m like Gareca (Peru’s football coach) and will go home, happy with a tie”,… haha…
– I also made it into the picture, of course –
Here the pic selection from the North Island:
The South Island
Much more nature to see in the South Island . If you are ever limited in time and have to choose, go for this one.
Christchurch, still recovering from devastating earthquakes, looks like a modern version of the Roman Forum, with containers temporarily replacing brick walls and giant parking lots in blocks where buildings used to stand tall and are now gone. It’s a cool and interesting city, but a bit sad as well, to see all they’ve had to endure.
We crossed the mountains in the center of the island in both directions. First, through amazing Arthur’s pass, towards the equally amazing glaciers of the west coast (I have to say, however, that I recently saw some friends’ pictures of a glacier in Patagonia-Argentina and that one looks way more impressive). Then we went to the highlight of our mountain experience, at -wait for it once again- Mount Cook! Great walks with great views of peaks, snow, glacier walls, ice blocks, pitch black skies full of stars and our first time in a dorm, sharing our room with a chatty Chinese couple.
Fiordland and Queenstown in the south were our final stops in NZ. Also, the ones we liked the most. The boat tours to the Milford and Doubtful Sounds (fiords) were something different from anything we had seen so far. And finally Queenstown -and her little sister Wanaka- probably the only cities in NZ were we could consider living. Small but so picturesque and lively. Great atmosphere and postcard-pretty. Here we also met Sarah, a super nice Dutchie with the most contagious laughter ever and confessed ultra-fan of Hanson (remember MMMBop? … well, they still exist as a band, apparently). One more beer and I’m sure she would have shown us a Hanson tattoo on her lower back. With Sarah we had dinner, ice cream, ginger beers, the self-proclaimed best burger in the world, hiked a bit and laughed at nonsense quite a bit. Good times. We are due to meet again, some time during carnival at Maastricht. 😊
– after 40 minutes off queuing …well worth it! –
And lastly, here in Queenstown, at a bar with a handful of other fellow Peruvians -thanks to Facebook-, we watched the second match of the play-offs…. and saw Peru qualify to the World Cup for the first time in 36 years! This time the only Peruvian flag on the streets was Sandra’s, but it counted for all the ones we had seen in Wellington and more. Watching Peru make it to the World Cup by beating New Zealand, while in New Zealand. Priceless.
Here the pics from the South Island …
With that, we are ready for Australia, part II.
Oh. Was forgetting about the musical bonus track. It just needed to be this one, sorry.
While on an Airplane, somewhere over India -I believe-, December 5th, 2017