So I said g’day to Australia 4 days ago and was plunged into the heart of Melbourne, the first real city I’ve seen since I departed good old London.
I had an epic 4 weeks in New Zealand and found both islands incredible – the South’s mountainous landscapes and its dazzling, turquoise mirror lakes are definitely a strong competitor for the North’s unique natural hot springs and brightly coloured volcanic lakes blasting out their sulphurous gases – the town of Rotorua literally smells like rotten eggs (which made a nice change from the smell of excrement I got used to in Paris).
Kaiteriteri at the top of the South island (part of Abel Tasman National Park) was a stunning coastal area full of beautiful bays – though the highlight was probably being given free sambuca shots from some locals who then whizzed us around in their speedboat on a late night diving trip for crayfish – as you do (although when said fish started having some sort of epileptic fit on the boat I almost had one myself out of sheer terror). I ended up nearly killing us all by driving the boat myself and charging through the Pacific at top speed – bearing in mind my driving skills left something to be desired I feel I did pretty well in not indeed, as expected, killing us all.
Seeing Franz Josef glacier was an experience but the only way of getting onto it these days is via helicopter after its post-2009 climate change-induced retreat. I still managed to see it and its bluish reflections from a distance, and the rainforest surrounding it was pretty impressive. We went on a rocky boat trip through Milford Sounds (a fjord surrounded by dramatic cliff-drops, mystical clouds and sky-high waterfalls) and ended up hopping around on board like a bunch of mentalists in our attempt to stand up on deck.
The highlight of the South was Queenstown – it’s as if New Zealand has plonked all its passion for outdoorsy crazy adrenalin-rush-causing let’s-almost-die activities in one little town (set on a beautiful beach and amongst dramatic scenery) whose sole focus is on fun. I raced down the steepest hill in the town in a strange little engine-less vehicle with new backpacker friends (‘luging’) (and ended up going off the track/nearly getting tipped upside down), jumped about 20 feet off a tree on a rope swing into a lake (and got laughed at for being scared by two annoyingly fearless 10 year old children), and jumped 134 metres off the dangling bungy pod mentioned in the previous post – somehow I survived despite being dragged up upside down after failing to pull out the chord and flip myself up the right way (thus resulting in a severe case of headrush/headache/uncontrollable laughter).
The best thing about Queenstown was the people – think 5 bus-loads of fellow Kiwi Experience-rs plus a whole load of others plonked on top of each other (some literally – backpacker buses have a rep to keep up) in one hostel and surrounded by bars. I made friends from all over the world and was incredibly sad to say goodbye, but I guess that’s all part of travelling.
Following that, Christchurch was relatively calm, largely because it’s a deserted city following the earthquake in 2011 (on 22nd February, weirdly the day I arrived). The destroyed cathedral, rubble-filled roads and abandoned, ghost-town like shops were incredibly sad to see but the city has big plans for the next few years and it’s expected to be bigger and better than ever before, as reflected in the optimistic spirit of the locals. There are beautiful spots surrounding Christchurch – I ventured to Ashley Gorge nearby and finally escaped the tourist crowds and backpacker hoards. It’s a river surrounded by green hills, lush forest and towering Manuka trees, and it was the most peaceful place I’ve been in New Zealand.
Since then I’ve been exploring Melbourne and its artsy, graffiti-clad backstreets and bars (like Croft Institute where they feed you cocktails from a syringe, or Madame Brussels which is decked out like a dolls house – totally normal, obvs). The Great Ocean Road was indeed pretty great, but, with its reputation as one of the best coastal drives in the world, I can’t help thinking it’s a bit overrated. The Yarra river running through Melbourne and the green spaces around are beautiful, but I already miss the mountainous landscape of New Zealand. That said, Oz does cities a whole lot better than NZ and on that note, it’s time to catch my flight to Sydney – I’m hardly one for timeliness (or indeed organisation – I lost my passport 3 days ago and proceeded to find it in a phone shop.) Be afraid, Sydney, be very afraid.