Our whirlwind tour of the North Island has come to an end, and we have spent the past three days hurtling south in order to get to Queenstown in time to start our three-day Routeburn hike.
It’s been a surprisingly enjoyable few days. You wouldn’t think spending a total of 23 hours on transport would be much fun, but thanks to a couple of bafflingly cheerful bus drivers with some excellent commentary of the passing towns, the time passed pretty quickly.
We left Rotorua in the afternoon, and arrived to Taupo in the dark. It was too late to fit much in before bed, but we managed to have lots of fun browsing the nearby Pak ‘n’ Save for dinner and snacks.
We’re easily pleased.
The next day we had a lot of time to fill – our ongoing bus wasn’t until 2am.
Taupo has a lot on offer. Unsurprisingly, we chose the free things – but there were lots of expensive options too: bungee jumps and canyon swings and hot spring spa centres.
We walked down from town towards the river, and along the Huka falls track. I’m not usually much impressed by waterfalls – in that one is very much the same as another – but I have to say this one was actually pretty amazing. The sheer power of the water as it gushed through the narrow passage was mesmerising to watch. Plus, New Zealand water just seems to be a different colour to other water. Just like the green of New Zealand is more vivid, the water here is clearer and fresher; brighter and bluer. Those photos you’ve probably seen of impossibly turquoise water – it’s for real.
Along the way we stopped off to watch the bungee jumpers, and I have to say it didn’t endear me to the idea. One guy jumped off and got a face-full of riverwater at the end. It did not look appealing. Add that to the bloodcurdling yells each jumper would let out as they dove off the platform, and altogether I don’t think I’ll be doing it any time soon.
(Except I might).
Once we’d finished our walk, we stopped off at the free local hot springs, for a little bath and a waterfall shower. Admittedly the waterfall was too hot to stay under for long, but it makes a pretty great story. Sadly the photos (of me looking somehow simultaneously bright red and pasty) will not be seeing the light of day.
Despite my constant references to the rain in New Zealand, we’ve actually been incredibly lucky with the weather, and it was thankfully sunny enough that it wasn’t unbearable to get out of the hot, steamy water. We lounged about for a while to dry off, and then wandered back to town, to try and catch a good sunset down by the lake.
Done for the day, we headed home for dinner (via an important KFC stop-off for Caitlin), and began the long wait for the bus. Time passed, filled with watching films and endless cups of tea and mindlessly scrolling through Facebook. It’s amazing how unproductive I can be when I have a span of time to fill and not much to do.
Zombie-like by 1.30am, we struggled out the door and headed for the bus stop.
Getting onto a long distance bus at 2 in the morning was a bit surreal. We entered an already-packed vehicle, and everyone stared at us as we woke them up with our stumbling around, all bleary eyes in the half-light. We squeezed into seats and settled for the brief six hour journey.
I don’t think I slept. Or if I did, I didn’t notice. I couldn’t stretch out my legs, my seatbelt didn’t work, the roads twisted and turned so much that when I rested my head down on the table I slid off every few minutes.
It was not a comfortable journey. But we did make it, alive and well, to Wellington, New Zealand’s answer to Melbourne (a.k.a. the world’s best city).
It was a bit bizarre having passed the night on a bus, emerging to a brand new day, but we had already determined to make the best of it. So, we jump on a bus to our hostel (the aptly named Cambridge Hotel), and were soon on our way back out – though not before I have managed to trip over my own feet in the middle of a road, and topple to the ground with the weight of my bags. I floundered for a few seconds, like an overturned tortoise, before Rhys came to my rescue, trying valiantly not to laugh.
It was fine. I thought it was bloody hilarious.
Anyway. Determined not to waste any time, we march up to Mount Victoria lookout for our first activity of the day.
Wellington is very hilly, it seems. Even from the top of the road you get a pretty good view of all the lower streets. But if you continue on up the steep Mount Victoria track, you’ll definitely get your reward. (And I’m not even talking about the fun slide near the top).
The Mount Victoria lookout, after a quick scramble up a grassy hill, offers the most fantastic views over Wellington. 360 degrees of panorama, and it’s beautiful at all angles. Worth the climb, even on minimal sleep (and not even a coffee yet).
Our next stop was, surprisingly, a museum. Te Papa, the national museum of New Zealand. The Lonely Planet guide book seemed to be its number 1 fan, so of course we had to go and see what all the fuss was about. Even Caitlin was keen, and she hates museums.
I have to say, as museums go, it was a pretty good way to spend a few hours. Unfortunately, though, a lot of the exhibits involved watching films housed in dark, cool rooms, with calming, soporific narration. Soothing and sleep-inducing at the best of times.
I struggled to remain awake, though the displays were genuinely very interesting. There was one particularly good exhibit, documenting New Zealand’s involvement in World War I, but it was a hard sell to a very tired person. I got pretty emotional, but it was hard to tell what was because of the exhibit and what was because of the half-hour’s sleep I’d had. Afterwards, we made a swift exit to find a much needed coffee.
Sitting down in a coffee shop was definitely one of my favourite parts of that day. Hiking up hills, breath-taking views, culturally enriching museums – all that is great, but nothing quite beats a comfy sofa and a large flat white. We lay unmoving for a good hour in a sunny patch outside (with Caitlin and Rhys frequently topping up their sun cream, very sensible).
It took a huge effort to drag ourselves out of the café, but we had one more stop to tick off in our whistle-stop tour of Wellington. So, we roused ourselves to make a trip up to the botanic gardens in the cable car for an enjoyable picnic on a hill. We decided against walking any further than the nearest grassy area, though.
After that we went back to the hostel to collapse some more, and have a much-needed nap. It was a struggle, once ensnared by our incredibly thick, snuggly duvets, to get up again, but if there is one thing that will always get me out of bed, it is food – and the night market promised just that. We grudginly headed out into the evening, to be faced with impossible choices (chickpea curry roti or mie goreng? Quesadillas or handmade Chinese dumplings?).
In the end Caitlin went for Ethiopian curry, Rhys got Indonesian noodles, and I scoffed down a delicious Chinese pancake.
Mere minutes after we finished our food, we scuttled home and slide gratefully into bed, not even really tempted by all the bars we did not explore.
The next day we began our travels south. A ferry between the islands, an all-day bus from Picton to Christchurch on one day, and another all-day bus from Christchurch to Queenstown the next. We’ve covered over a thousand kilometres, and eaten a hell of a lot of snacks along the way.
I have to say, though, of all the countries I’ve experienced long-distance travel in, New Zealand has to be one of the best. Never have I had bus journeys with such consistently stunning views, from clear streams running alongside forested hills, to lakes with mountainous backdrops, to beautiful cloud-draped horizons. It has not been a boring journey.
Caitlin keeps (worryingly) implying that these three days have been some of her favourite on the trip.
But now here we are in Queenstown, several days later, having done little but sit on various modes of transport for the past few days, and therefore very ready for three days of hiking in the rainy mountains. A tent has been bought, our bags are packed, the tickets readied.
I guess all that’s left is for us to go and do this thing… wish us luck!