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  • Writer's picturewanderingmiles

Thank God for shortbread

Updated: Feb 26, 2023

I have now been in New Zealand for almost 10 months but it feels like years if I'm honest with everything that has happened. In the past 6 weeks I have finished my job at the school, done a 12 day road trip down the South Island and started my new job as manager of Bridge Backpackers. But you're not here to hear about work stuff, and i want to write about my road trip so here it is, starting with a photo of the most beautiful place I've ever stayed - Mount Cook.

Before I left I had vague plans about what i was going to do and where but the beauty of having a camper van, and the beauty of New Zealand not exactly being over run with tourists at the moment, is that you can be spontaneous and relaxed with your plans. I was really nervous about my first night because it was going to be my first night in the van alone and I was going to spend 24 hours completely alone which I hadn't done in about 7 months, so yeah, I was scared - but I knew it would be worth it. I packed the van, made sure I had enough food for any emergency and set off. The weather was horrendous. Like, so bad, essentially the worst kind of weather you want to drive in except extreme snow. It was fine for the first 1.5 hours until my first wee stop, and then torrential rain and extreme wind until I reached Christchurch. At one point I genuinely thought my car was going to blow over when it went round bends (which there are an absolute shit tonne of on New Zealand roads). So I only stopped to wee and eat on my 6 hour drive to Christchurch and could not appreciate the beautiful roads I was driving on (luckily on my way back the weather was perfect and I saw the beauty and serenity of Lewis' Pass). I spent my first night in the van at Coes Ford, about 30 minutes past Christchurch when heading down south. It was recommended to me by Lucy so I knew it would be just what I needed - free, safe and had a toilet. Sleeping and cooking on my little gas stove went smoothly and I woke up to the sound of chickens the next morning. Another Lucy recommendation was where to shower, there's an app called Wikicamps which you can filter for whatever you are looking for camping wise. All you have to do is filter to find showers and then the red dots are the hot showers. I was able to find one which was on my way from Coes Ford to Lake Tekapo at the EA Networks sport centre in Ashburton which was perfect - clean and unlimited hot water, ideal!

When I got to Tekapo it was snowing, but the wet snow that isn't pretty or nice. Here I met Alex, Kyra, Michael and Ashleigh and we had a beaut day at Tekapo Springs relaxing once the sun finally came out and we had a beaut view of the Lake and the mountains. We paid $33 for 3 hours of access to the pools and the sauna and steam room but I spent about 10 minutes in the steam room so in reality I should have just paid the $25 for the hot pools!

My first stupid mistake and small blip happened in Tekapo, I left my headlights on aaaaand drained my car battery...luckily Michael and Ashleigh were on hand to save me and set up their van to jump start mine - their friend from Lake Ohau showed up at literally the right time to correctly connect my jump cables (because we had done it wrong hahaha) and got my car started in minutes so it was all good and I wasn't stranded.

That night me Kyra and Alex parked up at Lake Pukaki free camp and had plans to make a delicious veggie stir fry with rice on my gas cooker, we had all the ingredients and equipment but apparently not the common sense we needed for this to be a success. We unsuccessfully spent an hour trying to boil water for the rice, the sun had set; the temperature had gone below 0 degrees; Kyra had almost gotten frost bite from chopping up the veg and Alex had almost had a fight with her blow up mattress in the back of her car and to be honest we all got a bit sick of waiting for the water to boil. So we gave up. the water wasn't even hot enough to cook Kyra's pot noodle and it had been on the stove for an hour so you can imagine how much of a failure the whole thing was. Dinner ended up being wraps and crisps. Turns out that my car was parked on a bit of a slope so the gas in my canister was all at the bottom of the can and it just wasn't strong enough. I learned this the next morning when i cooked my porridge on the table next to the car park whilst the girls slept and it cooked in normal time due to the flat surface...Anyway, before I cooked my breakfast and after spending the night comfy but cold as hell due to the -4 degree temperature that I haven't experienced in a very long time (I slept with my hat and gloves on!!!), I woke up for the sunrise over Mount Cook and Lake Pukaki and it was beautiful, peaceful and just amazing. I felt so lucky that I was able to wake up right on the lake and watch New Zealand wake up and just be at peace.

Once Kyra and Alex woke up and felt alive again after their horrendous night in the back of Alex's car which may have scared Kyra life and she may never camp again, we set off for Mount Cook via Twizel for a coffee which we definitely needed. I mean I had a Chai Latte once I drove the 10 mins to Twizel, realised I left the unused vegetables from the night before in a bucket at the free camp which was annoying because we still wanted the veg and it was also littering in front of a natural beauty which is the worst kind of littering so I drove back to get it before returning to Twizel, what a faf lol.

The road to Mount cook was one of the most beautiful roads I've ever driven on. We had beautiful blue skies the whole way and when we arrived at the YHA hostel in Mount Cook National Park it took my breath away. Surrounded by snow and glaciers and the mountain ranges it felt like we were completely isolated but in the most beautiful and best way. There we met Max, Kat, Jack, Charlotte and of course Taylor, who's birthday was the reason we were all meeting there.

Seeing Taylor again after 3 months was amazing. I missed her so much and we were reunited in the most incredible setting which neither of us had been to before.

The next day was Taylor's birthday and we did the Hooker Valley Trail. Now let me tell you, this walk is my perfect walk. Approx 11km return, very easy with little incline but insane views the whole way round. See below my photos of track and surrounding areas and the insane view once you reach the end of the track at the Hooker Valley Glacier. Incredible. Breath Taking. Beautiful. And we had insanely beautiful weather which was obviously a bonus. It was a beautiful day for Taylor's birthday and I am so happy I was able to be there with her.

After, 2 nights in Mount Cook, I headed to Wanaka with Kyra and Alex where I stayed for one night. On the way me and Kyra stopped at the Clay Cliffs which are left over from ancient glaciers. They are ginormous and make you feel like you're in the desert. It reminded me of Sedona in Arizona but colder haha. It was so strange going from snowy mountains in the morning to desert style clay cliffs in the sun in the afternoon.

Anyway, Wanaka is beautiful. Last time I was here we just stopped for lunch so I didn't see much of it so it was lovely to spend a night there. It is picturesque and relaxing with the lake as the main centre with lots of lovely independent shops. And an amazing French Crepe place next to the Base hostel. For me the most important thing in Wanaka was that I was reunited with Sacha!! We all spent the evening in together eating dinner and having some drinks with live music before Me, Sacha and the boys headed to Queenstown for the final week of my trip. I do intend to return to Wanaka and do some of the walks which surround the town but I have plenty of time to do that in the summer.

Our first day in Queenstown was the start of the celebrations for Jojo's birthday. We had some drinks at the hostel before heading out and I personally had a great night. Queenstown is famous for it's night life and it does not disappoint. Shout out to Rhino's Sky Shack for its amazing mac and cheese which I have zero regrets about ordering at 1am in the morning despite the odd looks I got. Sacha agreed it was delicious but it could have been because of the amount of alcohol we had consumed...who knows. The next morning I had my first taste of Ferg Burger at 9.30am when me and Sacha decided we just needed to eat something so he got a burger, I got fries and then I tried his burger and the rumours are true people. Ferg Burger is delicious and the first beef burger I've ever enjoyed fully. it's also open until about 4am and then closes for cleaning before it re opens at 8am which is amazing. I made the most of my time in Queenstown and by that I mean I shopped, ate great food, and saw all my friends there. We did one touristy thing in the centre where we went up the gondola to see the views of Queenstown and The Remarkable's which is amazing but it costs a lot of money for just a return gondola ride when you can walk up to the top for free (you may almost die on the walk because it's an hour up a steep hill, but it's free...). With friends it's probably worth the gondola money but by yourself you'd spend about 10 mins up there and then it's just not worth it really.

On Sacha's birthday we went to Flame Bar and Grill for his birthday meal because all he wanted was good wine and steak so I found the best one i could and my god was it good. Not only were the steaks amazing, but the blue cheese sauce was one of the best things I have ever tasted in my life ever. EVER. To the point where I literally said OH MY GOD when I first tasted it and couldn't speak for a few seconds because it tasted that fucking good. Me and the boys shared a bottle of white and bottle of red between the 4 of us and the service was great so it was just a perfect way to celebrate Sacha's birthday and I was so happy I was there with him. It was so special to spend time with him in one of the most fun places in New Zealand. Also shout out to Zephyr Bar where I left my denim Jacket on night 1 and 4 days later remembered where I'd left it and went back praying it was still there and it was, right where I left it. Thank God, love that jacket. Taylor was our own personal tour guide in Queenstown, and while the boys were at work we went for a walk in Bob's cove, which was beautiful and peaceful and showed me the side of Queenstown I hadn't seen - peace and nature. And she took me to my first wine tasting experience at Gibbston Valley Winery which was also beautiful. Alex left Queenstown a day before me and Kyra so for our final breakfast the 4 of us went to Akarua Winery which have a beautiful cafe and we got delicious food, I got a haloumi dish with poached eggs and it was delicious. I would highly recommend to anyone in Queenstown or Arrowtown because it's about half way between.

It was amazing having Taylor there and Queenstown to show us the best bits and not have to think about what we can do because she just took control. Being with her felt a little bit like home and having a lot of people we know there was so good - I even got to see Michael and Ash there again and have my final breakfast in QT with them, they are best kind of people, so it was so good to see them twice on my trip!

Being in Queenstown was amazing and spending so much time with Taylor, Kyra, Alex, Sacha and Jojo and Lucas was perfect but it also meant that at the end of my time there I had to leave and come back to Nelson and leave Sacha and Taylor in there and it was heartbreaking for me. The only way i got through it was with a jar of little amazingly delicious shortbread biscuits sent from heaven from a chocolate/ice cream/general desert place called called Patagonia and a chocolate and caramel tart from Ma Boulangerie (the most amazing French bakery in Frankton near Queenstown). Basically I ate my feelings on my first 6 hour drive out of Queenstown before I spent the night at Coes Ford again and then did the second 6 hour drive to get back to Nelson. I cried a lot and ate everything I could. Crying is good for the soul but boy did I not want to come back to Nelson, if it wasn't for Lur, Tim and Alex and everyone else in Nelson I can't say for sure I'd have come back to my job...but I did and I am happy and I am doing a job that I enjoy, earning money which I also enjoy. I am a very optimistic person generally and I am lucky to be surrounded by love and have people that I love elsewhere in New Zealand and not just in Nelson and I have to remember that because the first week after leaving Sacha was horrible and I kept having crying outbursts. One day Lur, Ines and Alex stood on chairs to hug me so that I wasn't the tall one in the hug and it warmed my heart. Obviously FaceTiming my family helps a lot and I got to FaceTime my York girls last week and have a proper catch up with those who could make it which was amazing. My friends and family are always so supportive of everything I do and I can feel their love all the way on this side of the world and it makes such a lot of difference. Especially when I think about how hard it must be living in the UK right now they never make me feel guilty that I am able to live normally over here. So this is a final shout out to everyone back in the UK with the shit show that is both our government and the pandemic and I hope you're all doing the best you can!!




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