Christchurch, Kaikoura, Picton and the Queen Charlotte track – New Zealand

OK People, New continent, new stories, new website.

Because I’m going to travel allot faster here in New Zealand (it’s a small country) the stories I write are going to be a bit different from before. Before I did one story per city I visited but here in NZ I can visit 3 towns in one day so that won’t work anymore. The stories are also going to be a bit longer and my photo site had an upgrade (check it out at photogallery.renedissel.com).

Also I wrote everything in English and Dutch. That takes really allot of time so I tried to automate that part 😎 using Google translate but the fact is that it creates only nonsense. I guess technology isn’t that far yet.

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I have created a poll. If everyone votes here if they want me to do the stories in Dutch i will consider it!

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Christchurch-03963In Rio I found out that my brilliant plan to start in Christchurch had a little dent in it. A friend there asked me if it was a good idea to travel to Christchurch because he had heard that it was heavily damaged by the mayor earthquake in February. Up to date as I always am I scanned my memories and found no recollection of an earthquake in NZ…. Good job, Rene… But hey, how bad could it be? That was 3 months ago…

Well.. Pretty bad. Most houses here are completely empty. It’s a bit like a ghost town when I walk in a normal suburban street. Everywhere you see the damage from the earthquake. Everything that made from stone or concrete has fallen apart. Most of the roads are repaired but there are still big holes and cracks everywhere. The whole inner city is still under control of the policy and nobody is getting in. The biggest buildings and flats look weird because there not totally horizontal anymore.

I needed to get out of Christchurch that’s for sure. I slept off my jetlag and needed to research my options on the internet. Problem was that everywhere in New Zealand (and Australia) you have to pay for Wi-Fi/internet… Something up to 10 euro for half a day. No more downloading movies and series 😥

I wanted an easy travel around New Zealand and I heard that there are several hop-on/off busses that travel around NZ. This is what I found on the internet:

The transportation options are: go by car or camper van, go by regular bus, or go by hop-on hop-off bus. The car option is out, since I’m traveling alone. I could get rides and do ride-shares, but that’s too dependent on who you meet and when. Going by the regular bus, Intercity or NakedBus.com was doable, but I didn’t come to New Zealand to rush from point A to point B, and the thought of booking each individual leg of my trip sounded tedious. So I decided on buying a hop on hop off bus pass, but it’s just not that simple! New Zealand has three hop on hop off buses: Kiwi Experience, Magic, and Stray.

 

Kiwi Experience:
The green Kiwi Experience bus is called the F*** Truck for a reason. The Kiwi bus has the worst reputation of all the buses, as it’s often (not always) the party bus. Average passenger: 18-22 year old Brits on their gap year. Buses book up quick, which means you may be staying places much longer than anticipated. (Although I didn’t take the Kiwi bus, I met several people who had been “stranded” for days in different towns, unable to get a reserved space on the bus. This was not only frustrating for them, but it screwed up their NZ itinerary). Fewer stops along the way. That’s either a pro or a con, depending on how you like to travel. Kiwi is usually the last to leave and the first to arrive.

 

Magic:
The Magic buses don’t seem to have a “typical” traveler like the Kiwi bus. You can see a 65 year old couple and then an 18 year old gapper get off the bus. Definitely recommended for mid-30′s and over.
Magic seems to have more buses running, I heard no complaints about reservation woes. Magic is a very “middle of the road” kind of service.

Stray:
The Stray bus is a smaller bus system than Kiwi and Magic. They tend to “go off the beaten track” more. Average passenger: 18-30 year old Europeans and North Americans, also more of an outdoorsy crowd. (You won’t typically see Stray passengers trying to hike the Tongariro Crossing in flip flops, like the Kiwi kids.) Stray has fewer buses (and a more limited off-season schedule), some towns they only pick up every other day. The good news is, that since it’s not as crowded as Kiwi and Magic, you don’t even have to reserve a spot. You can usually just show up at the bus stop and hop on. Great for last minute plans. More stops along the way. Again, this might be great for you, or might drive you crazy. Stray is typically the first to leave and last to pull in, but you stop more often for quick hikes and “secret spots” the driver wants to stop at.

 

It was an easy choice for me to go on the stray bus. I booked a trip on the internet (don’t forget to get a discount code, saves you 50 dollars) and hopped on at the Antarctic center in Christchurch. The bus is really nice. You don’t have to  think of anything, just sit back and enjoy the ride. If you don’t like it just jump of and wait for the next one.

We headed for Kaikoura and normally you fire up your laptop or iPod but not now. Your just looking outside because the surroundings are fantastic and you don’t want to miss anything. Just a few hours later your already there. This country is has great travel times 😀 . We could do a couple of things here. The main where whale watching, fishing and dolphin swimming. Since I’m not a big fan of fishing (but if you see the pictures of the monsters they catch here I should try it. They even guarantee you a fish.) and already saw allot of whales in Antarctica I opted for the dolphins. We got into our wetsuits (the water is really cold here and crystal clear) we sat sail. I didn’t expect too much because its nature, you never know. Maybe 3 or 4 dolphins?

Not the 400+ that where jumping all around us. Hundreds and hundreds of dolphins everywhere.

They follow the boat and when we stop we all jump in and they get really close (10 cm from your face close). You have to make as much noise as possible to keep them interested so most people started singing. You would think that with 80% of my group being girls that it would be nice but the truth is that most people can’t sing. Thank got the dolphins didn’t notice 😆 . The sunset finished it all off with every 10 seconds a jumping dolphin. This was definitely worth the money.

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After that we got back we checked into a hostel with a bar and it was quiz night. Beer and competition are a good combination. We had allot of fun. One exception that night because there was a contest which people resembled famous people. When my bus driver voted me looking like prince harry I really knew I needed a haircut.. allot of people even agreed…… 🙁

The next day we stopped a little waterfall. Every year something like a hundred seals come here to play. It was amazing when they jump up and check you out. The final stop was Picton where I’m staying for a while. This is because I can’t continue without a good camera. The dolphin pictures are OK but I couldn’t even make one good picture of the seals with this shitty camera I have now. I really feel terrible for not making any good pictures for over a month now (it’s in repair).

DSC04180I did the Queen Charlotte track here to get a bit fit again (haven’t been doing any good trekking in 3 months). Its starts at “Ships Cove”. This is where Captain Cook landed his ship when first circumnavigation New Zealand. It’s like you’re on an tropical island and looking for Capitan hooks/Cooks treasure. It’s really tropical and jungle like. Not at all what I expected from NZ.

After that its 71 KM walking. I really liked the track but it’s pretty though going. The first day is 27 KM but I arrived at Noëline’s Homestay. A really nice lady (80 years old) that houses people since her husband died a couple of years ago. They call here the international grandma and when I left the next day I got a big hug and 2 wet kisses on my cheek, haha. The second day is 24 KM and takes you high above the bays for some great views of the many bays and coves. I slept at “Treetops” where I had the whole place to myself. When I woke up the last day it was really foggy. I started the track by walking up and above the clouds and everywhere I looked there where clouds. I couldn’t see what was there but I loved it. I only heard a ships fog horn every now and again. This is pretty much what Picton (the town I’m staying in) is like. It’s like an old twin-peaks town in a bay surrounded by forest with big fogbanks coming in now and again. I really like it but when I get my camera I’m hopping on the bus again.

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Edit:

Camera repair shop finally called. After a month of waiting they tell me the price is 460 euro’s. I’m bought a camera at the next town called Nelson. Its a Canon 60D and hopefully my coming pictures will improve allot.