How To Save On Accommodation While Traveling

When it comes to traveling, accommodation will generally be one of your biggest expenses, behind the cost of your flight and transportation. Especially in western countries, where a night in a basic hotel room can cost well over a hundred dollars in some places. Since I’m more keen on budget travel, I would rather use that money for other things. With so many alternatives out there, it’s easy to cut down on your accommodation costs. And sometimes spending less on accommodation doesn’t necessarily sacrifice comfort! In this day and age, you can still get the same comfort and privacy you would get in a hotel for less.

Hostels
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Hostels are the obvious pick for budget travelers as they can offer a cheap place to sleep. Privacy isn’t usually a priority for people who stay in hostels as they are more well known for dormitory-style sleeping environments. Typically you’ll share a room with 3-6 other people, but there are some pretty big hostels out there. I once stayed in a 40-bed dorm in Munich! On the other hand, plenty of hostels do offer private rooms for people who like their own space, and it’s usually a lot cheaper than a private hotel room!

Hostels tend to be thought of as dirty, your things can get stolen, and in the movies, a place where you might be sharing a room with a serial killer. Granted I have seen some pretty disgusting hostels, but the vast majority of them were actually decent and quite nice. Security matters a lot to guests, so many hostels are often equipped with lockers you can use for free or for a small fee. A lot of times you’ll also find many hostels out there that offer perks like free WiFi, free breakfast, or free BBQ dinners. I even stayed a hostel in Australia once that offered free kayak and surfboard rentals! Nearly every hostel I’ve been to was also equipped with a kitchen, so you can save even more money by cooking your own meals.

Not all hostels are the dark, dingy, and cockroach infested places like you see in the movies. There are a lot out there that are clean, comfy, and sometimes even quite homey and stylish. I’ve even gotten lucky in some places where my “dorm” bed turned out to be a queen size all to myself! Typically a good hostel has social areas where you can meet other travelers. This is why I usually prefer staying in hostels when I travel, because it’s where you can make new friends!

Airbnb
Airbnb is a great resource for people to find and rent lodging while traveling. I’ve used it a few times and it’s especially great when you’re traveling with someone or a group of people since you can split the costs. The way it works is people who have a spare room or even a whole apartment available, lease it out for short-term (and sometimes long-term) stays. You can rent out a room in a shared apartment or even a whole private apartment/house for yourself. You can find some good budget deals on here as an alternative to a hotel, especially when you’re staying in a more expensive city. But if you have the money, you can also find some very unique and interesting places to stay in. There’s even a listing to stay in a castle! 

Housesitting
Another interesting accommodation alternative, if you have the time and flexibility, is housesitting. There are several websites out there, such as TrustedHousesitters and Housecarers, where people who are going on holiday for a period of time are in need of someone to watch over the home and/or take care of pets while they are away. I’ve personally never tried this, but I know people who have and they saved hundreds if not thousands of dollars on accommodation during their travels. The catch is you do need to commit to a longer time period in one place (which isn’t always a bad thing if you have the time). But having a free place to stay for a relatively small amount of work sounds like a fair trade to me!

Camping
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Camping is another alternative that can be fun and cheap. Sometimes it can be free! In some countries like Australia, New Zealand, and the United States, freedom camping is pretty popular and can be done in a lot of areas. While road tripping across Australia, my friends and I camped most of the way. It saved us a lot of money and made for a more memorable experience! There’s nothing like sleeping under the stars deep in the Australian Outback.

Couchsurfing
Another great way to cut down the costs of accommodation is to stay with someone who lives in the place you’re visiting. Couchsurfing is a great networking site of people who offer their couches or any free space in their homes for other travelers. While it’s nice to have a free place to stay, I find the most rewarding aspect about this option is that you meet and stay with a local who can show and teach you things about their city that you otherwise might not have known about. I use it from time to time and have had some pretty great experiences! There have even been times where I’ve been invited to local events and parties with my host’s friends. The service is free, but in exchange for letting me stay at their place I generally like to take my hosts out for drinks or make them dinner. It’s a great way to make new friends with the locals and have cultural exchange.

Of course sleeping at a stranger’s place sounds a bit weird and unsafe, but you just have to think smart when you’re searching for a potential host. Key things I look for are people who have complete profiles with pictures, details about their interests and hobbies, and most importantly reviews from other people who have interacted with them before.

Volunteering
Volunteering can add a rewarding and enriching experience to your travels. There are endless organizations and resources out there to find projects and opportunities, from taking care of sea turtles in Costa Rica, to helping out at local schools in Peru, to working on organic farms in New Zealand. In most cases you’re given a cheap or sometimes free place to stay in exchange for your work. I’ve used sites like WWOOFing, HelpX, and Workaway to find opportunities to work a few hours a day in lodges, hostels, and B&Bs in exchange for free accommodation.

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My Favorite Places In The World

A lot of times I get asked what my favorite place in the world is. And the answer I give is pretty ambiguous, because it’s hard to choose just one! There are several places I can think of that were especially memorable and favorable, all for different reasons. If I had to narrow it down to a top 10, these would be the ones (in no particular order):

1. New Zealand
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Might be a bit biased since I lived there for nearly a year, but New Zealand is one of those places that always seems to be on everyone’s top lists! And for a good reason too, there is so much packed into this little country–towering volcanoes, lush rain forests, beautiful beaches, charming rolling hills, fjordlands, gorgeous mountain ranges. It’s a stunningly beautiful country everywhere you look. As an outdoorsy, nature-loving kind of guy this is the perfect country for me and I love that fact that there’s so many things to do here to get your adrenaline rush fix. Besides that, Kiwis are some of the nicest and friendliest people I’ve met! The Maori culture here is strong and very interesting to learn about.

Highlights: Doing the Tongariro Crossing; heli-hiking on the Franz Josef glacier; black-water rafting Waitomo glowworm caves

2. Australia
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Even as a kid, I always wanted to go to Australia so having the opportunity to live there for a year was a dream come true! Australia has become my second home and I’m considering moving back here again one day. I’ve fallen in love with the laid-back, easy going lifestyle that defines Aussie culture. The work/life balance here is something I admire. I’m also a lover of the sun, so a sunny warm climate is also pretty ideal for me. Two of my favorite places in the world are here, one being Sydney. I’m not normally a big fan of cities, but Sydney is one I’d live in. The other being the Margaret River region of Western Australia, where I lived and worked for 6 months. Some of the best beaches I’ve seen to date are there and it’s also one of the country’s premiere wine regions. It’s a beautiful place to live. I really hope to make it back to Australia again one day!

Highlights: Living in Dunsborough, WA; road tripping up the East Coast and across the Outback; exploring Kakadu National Park by 4WD

3. France
Birds Eye View of Paris
I’ve spent quite a bit of time in France now, more than any other European country, and I’ve grown quite fond of it! Most of the time I’ve spent there has been in Paris (one of my favorite cities in the world), but in this most recent trip I also got to see a bit more of the countryside in the Alsace Region as well as the city of Lyon. The thing I love about France is despite it’s relatively small size (well compared to the US at least) is how diverse it is. It’s got beautiful farmlands and rolling hills, wine regions, rugged coastlines, high mountains, a warm Mediterranean climate in the south. Plus I have an affinity for French language and culture, making this one of my favorite places!

Highlights: Walking the streets of Paris at night; wandering around the Christmas markets in L’Alsace

4. United States
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Even though this one is obviously biased as it’s my home country, nothing beats the diversity of the United States. From the polar regions in Alaska, to tropical jungles in Hawaii, to the stunning deserts in Utah and Arizona, there is such a huge range of places to see in the US. As a nation made up of immigrants, there is also such a huge pool of diversity in the people as well and you can find pretty much any kind of food from around the world that you can think of if you look in the right places. Despite living there most of my life, there’s still so much I have to see!

Highlights: Washington State in general, my home state (and the best state!); road tripping around Utah and Arizona; summer days with family on the New Jersey shore

5. Ireland
Stormy Skies Over Connemara
I’m currently backpacking through Ireland at the moment so I might still be caught up with the initial awe and excitement of being here, but I’ve loved every bit of it so far! Ireland is an absolutely beautiful country, especially out west and to the north along the rugged, weathered coast. While the weather might not be so nice all the time (where else is it sunny, then rain sideways, and hails all within a 10 minute time span?), it’s breathtaking when the sun is out. Irish people also have to be the among the most charming and friendly people I’ve met so far. I love Irish accents and find some of the expressions and things they say very amusing! Everyone is so chatty and welcoming that it’s super easy to make friends with the locals here!

Highlights: Driving around Slea’s Head; Killarney National Park; hanging out with locals in pubs

6. Portugal
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Portugal is another place I’ve visited recently and absolutely fell in love with. I had no expectations coming here and ended up finding a place with picturesque cities, warm and welcoming people, amazing food and wine (port wine is out of this world), a nice warm climate most of the year, and beautiful landscapes. I was very surprised to find that many people here speak very good English, making it a lot easier to talk to people! It’s also a great destination to go to if you’re on a budget, as everything is cheap here compared to the rest of Europe. I’m still getting over the buzz of being in Portugal and really want to go back again sometime!

Highlights: Drinking port wine in Porto; exploring castles in Sintra; kayaking along the Algarve Coast in Lagos

7. Vietnam
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Vietnam is one of those countries visitors either love or hate, and fortunately I fall in the love category. From the chaotic streets of Ho Chi Minh which are buzzing day and night with the noise of endless waves of motorbikes, to walking with the ethnic Hmong people in the quite rice terraces in the north around Sapa, this is a country rich with history, cultural diversity, and one of the most distinguished cuisines in the world. The food alone is a major reason to love Vietnam. The variety in different dishes they have is astounding. There is quite a defined backpacker/tourist trail that runs the length of the country, but there are so many relatively undiscovered places to explore if you go off the beaten path.

Highlights: Boat trip on the river in Trang An, through stunning karst formations; Hoi An; canyoning in Dalat; trekking and doing a home stay with Hmong people in Sapa

8. Peru
The Locals of Machu Picchu
Peru is a special country to me, because it was the first place where I began traveling solo! I spent a week there in the area around Cusco and hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, which is still one of my most memorable trips to date. While I would have liked to have stayed longer to see more of the country, what I did see and experience there was inspiring and made me want to travel independently as much as I could from that point on. I remember feeling so nervous and awkward when I arrived at the airport and I had to bargain with some dodgy cab drivers to get to my hostel. I stayed in a hostel by myself for the first time and forced myself to talk to strangers to make new friends. I Wandered around and got lost in the streets of Cusco and tried new foods in the local market. On the day of the trek our group had breakfast with a Peruvian family on their farm. It was exhilarating Walking through the Andes and being surrounded by stunning scenery everywhere, being in awe as I walked through the ruins of Machu Picchu. I would love to go back here again and see more of South America in general!

Highlights: Cuy (guinea pig) breakfast on a farm in the countryside; trekking on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu; climbing Huayna Picchu

9. Hong Kong
Hong Kong Lights
I love Hong Kong. It’s the kind of city that’s always buzzing with life and there’s always something interesting happening around the corner. It’s blessed with a beautiful harbor and surrounded by jungle-covered mountains. The contrast between nature and cosmopolitan city life here is amazing. One minute you can be on a bustling street surrounded by enormous sky scrapers, the next you can find yourself on a quite path going up into the mountains. And the food here is to die for! I loved exploring all the exotic fruits in the street markets (rambutans and mangosteens are my Asian favs). Chinese food in general is addicting, and the experience of being the only westerner in a family-owned noodle restaurant is memorable. I’ll never be able to look at Chinese food anywhere else in the world the same way again, the real stuff is so good!

Highlights: Eating amazing Chinese food; seeing Victoria Harbour at night; exploring the markets; cable car ride up to the Giant Buddha statue

10. Nepal
Swayambhunath | Kathmandu
As a lover of hiking and mountains, Nepal was always on my list of places to visit. Now I can say I finally have and it’s just as brilliant as I thought it would be! Despite going in the aftermath of the April 2015 earthquake, the country is very much open for tourism. The country is one of the best places in the world for trekking, the opportunities are endless. I did the Everest trek and although I did have a bout of food poisoning and altitude sickness (not a great combo), it was a very memorable experience. Aside from the stunning beauty of the Himalayas, Nepal is also very rich in culture and diversity. There are over 40 different ethnic groups and tribes living here and the beauty of the Himalaya is stunning.

Highlights: Trekking up the EBC trail and seeing Mount Everest up close.

10 Things To Add To Your New Zealand Bucket List

I can’t believe it’s already been a year since I left New Zealand! I miss it so much, I’d go back and do it all over again if I could. Aside from being incredibly beautiful, there’s just so much to see and do here. That’s what I love about it most–it may be small, but it’s so diverse and packed with many opportunities to get out of your comfort zone and do something thrilling and different. Here’s a list of amazing things you should add to your New Zealand bucket list:

1. Climb Mount Doom in Tongariro National Park
Mount Doom
Crowned as New Zealand’s best day hike, the Tongariro Crossing is a 19 km trail that passes through the central North Island’s volcanic landscape. Filming of the Mordor scenes in Lord of the Rings took place here, and right in the center is Mt. Ngauruhoe, which took stage as the treacherous Mt. Doom. While you won’t find orcs or hobbits here, the journey up to the 2291 meter summit is well worth the journey, offering incredible views over the whole park and beyond. The hike is best done Dec-April when the weather is more favorable.

2. Island Hop Around the Bay of Islands
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The Bay of Islands in Northland is exactly what it’s named after—a big beautiful bay filled with islands. Situated in subtropical northern New Zealand, the region has a warm and relaxed atmosphere, making for an ideal getaway destination for Aucklanders escaping the bustling city life. With 144 islands and hundreds of beaches, it’s also a great place for island hopping! There are several sailing tours out to the islands from the towns of Paihia and Russel. I would recommend The Rock, which offers both day and overnight trips. Their tours include tons of activities including fishing, snorkeling, kayaking, night swimming in phosphorescent plankton, and hiking on the islands.

3. Heli Hike on the Franz Josef Glacier
Ice Landing
Ever wanted to see a glacier up close? In New Zealand you can take a helicopter and land on one! There are two major glaciers along the west coast of the South Island, the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers which descend from high in the mountains all the way down to the lush rainforests at sea-level. While the Fox Glacier can be accessed by foot with a guide, the Franz Josef is only reachable by aircraft. But it’s so much better to fly as you can see more and get to places you normally couldn’t. Flights take off from the nearby town of Franz Josef. While short, it’s an incredibly scenic journey and an exciting experience if you’ve never been on a helicopter before. After landing on the ice, you’re left behind with your guide to explore for a few hours. If you’re lucky, you might even have a chance to go inside a blue ice tunnel!

4. Kayak Abel Tasman National Park
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Many people who come to Abel Tasman only hike through it via the Abel Tasman Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. But as a national park next to the ocean, the best way to see it is by sea. The coastline here is stunning and is a great place to see some beautiful beaches and wildlife like seals and penguins. There are tons of kayak tours you can do, but I liked Kaiteriteri Kayaks as they offered a trip for people who want to see the park both by land and sea. You spend a day hiking a stretch of the coastal trail, spend the night, and then kayak back with a guide the next day.

5. Drive Through the Southern Alps
Road to Aoraki
Anyone who has ever lived in or travelled through New Zealand will tell you no visit is complete without visiting the South Island’s beautiful mountain ranges. It’s worth renting a car or campervan and taking a drive through this incredibly scenic part of the country. My personal favorite drives were in Aoraki-Mount Cook National Park and the road along Lake Wakatipu from Queenstown to Glenorchy and Paradise.

6. Walk the Milford Track
Milford Sound
For hikers and backpackers, the Milford Sound Track is a hiking mecca. It’s up at the top of the list with other world-famous hikes, like the Inca Trail and Camino de Santiago. This four day walk takes you through some of New Zealand’s most stunning scenery along rivers, past waterfalls, through lush rainforests, over mountain passes, and finally ending at Milford Sound. To maintain and preserve the pristine environment, the Department of Conservation only permits a limited number of people to the hike the track per day. Book well advance as permits go out quickly, especially in the summer!

7. Go White Water Rafting

New Zealand is packed with rivers and there are tons of places you can go white-water rafting. But the unique thing about the Kaituna River near Rotorua is that you actually raft down several waterfalls, the biggest drop being 21 feet. This is the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world, and taking the plunge here is an experience you’ll never forget!

8. Discover Cathedral Cove
Cathedral Cove
Now somewhat of an icon after appearing in films and music videos, Cathedral Cove is a stunning beach accessed via a natural tunnel passing under a rocky coastal headland. About a 45 minute walk from the town of Hahei in the Coromandel Region, the beach is best accessed at low tide and in the morning or late afternoon when the day time crowds are not present.

9. Sandboard the Te Paki Sand Dunes
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These mountains of sand are located only 20 minutes away from Cape Reinga, the northernmost point country. The landscape is surreal—it looks more like the Sahara desert than anything you would expect to see in New Zealand. Here you can rent a boogie board (or if you have one bring your own!) and take a thrilling ride down the steep sand dunes. If you happen to go on a rainy day, you’re in luck as you actually go down much faster on the wet sand. And the best way to go is head first!

10. Tube Through the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves

The little town of Waitomo doesn’t look like much from the surface, but below the rolling hills and farmlands lies a massive underground network of caves lit up by millions of glowworms. The best way to see them is to grab an inner tube and get wet, floating through the subterranean rivers that flow through the caves. There is a bit of thrill on the adventure as in some places you have to pass through narrow passages and jump off a waterfall, making it an incredible adventure activity to add to your list!

E Noho Rā Aotearoa (Farewell New Zealand)

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Tomorrow is the day I leave New Zealand, marking the end of my working holiday here. I find it hard to believe it’s already been nearly 10 months since I first left home. In some ways it feels like it was yesterday, in others it seems like it was a lifetime ago. It’s funny how time works like that. As C.S. Lewis once said, “Day by day nothing changes, but when you look back everything is different.

Looking back now, I remember the last farewells to my friends and family before stepping on the plane toward what would become one of the most incredible experiences in my life. I remember the nervousness, the anxiety, the thrill, and the excitement of jetting off to foreign land. A land where I knew no one and somehow had to figure out how to get along on my own. It wasn’t until after my first few weeks in this country that I realized how easy it actually all was. To be honest, the hardest part about this journey really was leaving my front door. After that, everything kind of fell into place.

I found work. I found places to live. I found ways to move around and discover this beautiful country. Most of all perhaps, I found good friends from all over the world. This experience has helped me become more confident, more sociable, more willing to step out of my comfort zone, more focused on the things in life that really matter. I saw amazing places and did things that for the longest time could only dream of doing. I climbed volcanoes, walked on glaciers, rafted in glowworm caves and over waterfalls, boogie-boarded down mountains of sand, walked on beautiful beaches. It’s been an incredible journey and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

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Thank you New Zealand for the adventure. Thank you for your beautiful mountains, your sparkling lakes and rivers, your lush foresth. The fresh air, the calm seas, the magnificent beaches. And of course all the people from here and far that made all the difference. I’ll miss you Aotearoa.

How to Speak Like A Kiwi

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The Kiwi accent is unique. While many people from overseas might say it’s the same as the Australian accent, you’ll find that they’re actually quite different if you listen closely enough (and don’t ask a Kiwi if they’re Australian–they don’t like that :)). One of the most common and classic ways you can tell is by having them say “fish and chips”. An Aussie would tell you “feesh and cheeps” whereas a Kiwi would say “fush and chups”. This flattening of the vowel is very distinguished in New Zealand and is what makes it different from pretty much every other English-speaking country.

Generally their A’s (as in catch) sound more like eh, the E’s more like ee, and the I’s (as in fish) sound more like u. Also, the “ay” sound (as in bay) are more like ai (bai) and certain I sounds (as in “mice”) are more like oi (moice). Here are some more examples:

The short a as in “back” sounds like “behck”.
The a in words like “day” sound more like “die”.
The e in words like “went” sound more like “weent”.
The short i as in “kids” sounds like “kuds”.
The i in words like “ice” sounds like “oice”.

So the sentence “Today, Ben went to the backyard to see if the kids wanted some ice” actually sounds more like “To die, Been weent to the behck yahd to see uff the kuds wantud some oice.”

Another key feature of the Kiwi accent, like the Australians, the British, the South Africans, and people from Boston, is that they pronounce their R’s differently than in Canada and most of America. It’s much softer and sounds more like “ah” than the typical American pirate “arrrr”. So yard actually sounds more like “yahd”.

Also, similar to Canadian English, New Zealanders tend to end their sentences with a rising intonation–almost as if asking a question–so their speech sound cheerful and friendly. And like Canadians they say “eh” at the end of a question, only it sounds more like “aye”.

As an American I didn’t really find the Kiwi accent too difficult to understand, but sometimes found it amusing to listen to. Like that awkward moment when a Kiwi asks you to paint their deck (deeck). Or another time while hanging up some clothes on the laundry line at a hostel I used to work at, someone asked me to get some more pegs (clothes-pins in the US). What I heard was “cen you please go geet me some pigs?”!

Last but not least, you’ll need to know some of the vocabulary that is especially unique to New Zealand. Here are some common words and phrases I’ve heard:

Sweet As – Common expression meaning “great!” or “awesome!” You can also replace “sweet” with other adjectives like “cheap as” to mean “it’s very cheap!” or “cold as” to mean “it’s very cold!”
Bach – Pronounced “batch”. Means a vacation home or cabin
Boot – The trunk of a car
Brekkie – Breakfast
Capsicum – Bell pepper
Chiller – Refrigerator
Chilly bin – Cooler; ice chest
Choice – Nice
Cuppa – Refers to a cup of coffee or tea
The Dairy – Convenience store
Fizzy drink – Soda or pop
Good on ya! – Congrats or well done!
Heaps – A lot
Hoover – Vacuum cleaner
Hokey Pokey – A quintessential NZ treat that consists of bits of honeycomb toffee and vanilla ice cream.
Jandal – Abbreviation for “Japanese sandal”, or what Americans and British people call flip flops
Kai – Maori for “food”
Kia Ora – Common Maori expression for “hello”
Lemonade – Very different from American lemonade as it refers to drinks like 7UP and Sprite.
Mate – Friend
Rubbish – Trash; garbage
Stag Party – Bachelor party
Sunnies – Sunglasses
Tramping – Hiking
The Wop Wops – Out in the middle of nowhere
Ta – Maori for “Thank you”
Ute – Truck
Zed – The letter “Zee” in America is pronounced “Zed” in NZ (or as the Kiwis say, N Zed).
Yeah nah – I’m not sure exactly what this one means, but I think it’s basically a nice way of saying no.

7 Things I Don’t Like About New Zealand

New Zealand is a great country. Everyone seems to rave about it. It’s beautiful, the people are friendly, it’s easy to get around, it’s a great destination for backpackers. Hardly do I ever hear anything negative about it. But of course, every country has its flaws in some shape or form. So here’s a list of my pet peeves and annoying things I’ve encountered during my travels in Aotearoa:

1. The Lack of Good Internet
Internet connectivity just isn’t as efficient as it is in most other countries I’ve been. Free, fast, and unlimited WiFi is almost unheard of. You can usually find free WiFi at places like coffee shops and cafes, but usually the connection is pretty slow. Some hostels also offer free Internet access, but usually there’s a data and time limit (on average around 100mb/day). On a more positive note, the mobile network is pretty good and I usually have no problem getting 3G on my iPhone in most cities and towns.

2. The Sandflies
If you think mosquitoes are annoying, just wait until you experience the nightmare of getting eaten alive by New Zealand’s sand flies. They’re much smaller, but they can really leave bites that will have you itching for weeks. They’re especially bad in Abel Tasman, the West Coast, and Milford Sound where they gather in hordes, but they can be found anywhere on beaches and in the bush near water sources. They’re slow fliers so I suppose you could avoid them by jumping around and walking in circles like a fool. It’s hard to simply sit and enjoy the amazing scenery without getting flocked by them.

3. The Bad Drivers
Don’t get me wrong, driving in New Zealand is awesome. With all its beautiful and unique landscapes, I’d say it’s one of the best countries to drive in. But when it comes to the drivers–that’s a different story. Contrary to the easygoing and laid back culture New Zealand is known for, everyone seems to be in a mad rush to get somewhere once they’re on the road. For one, pedestrian right-of-way is almost non-existent. Unless you’re crossing the road at an official crosswalk, nobody slows down or stops for pedestrians crossing the street. I’ve also seen a fare share of drivers crossing the center line to cut corners on curvy roads, drunk drivers, and slow drivers suddenly speeding up well above the speed limit while driving through passing zones. Not that these kinds of things don’t happen in the US, but I’ve noticed it more here than at home. For a country with a small population, New Zealand has some of the highest crash rates in the world. Kiwi drivers aren’t the only ones to blame however. Traffic collisions involving tourists are not uncommon, oftentimes distracted by the scenery or are just simply driving on the wrong side of the road.

4. The Expensive Food
For a country whose main industry is agriculture, you’d be surprised that things like vegetables and fruits are much more expensive here than you would think. $33/kg for limes? Really?

5. The Intense Sun
The UV levels in New Zealand are higher than anywhere else, thanks to a hole in the ozone layer above this part of the world. I’ve been to places that are much hotter (Florida, Arizona, Panama to name a few), but the sunshine there never felt like it does in New Zealand. On sunny days, you can literally feel the sun burning your skin on first contact and sometimes it can feel pretty uncomfortable. If you’re outside a lot, sunscreen is a must.

6. The Lack of Insulation in Homes
While New Zealand summers are often warm and pleasant, it does get pretty cold throughout most parts of the country during the winter–especially on the South Island. Which is why I don’t understand why many Kiwi homes and buildings aren’t insulated. Or have double-glazed windows. And with only a single fireplace or stove to rely on for heat, some houses can get quite cold and damp during the winter. One place I stayed at got so cold inside that I could see my own breath. The solution to stay warm? Just throw on another jacket.

7. These Sinks
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One side projects freezing cold water, the other boiling hot, and the sink itself is so small one can barely wash their hands in it. A major fail in engineering.

A Change in Plans

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Before I arrived in New Zealand, I had planned on staying here for as long as my Working Holiday Visa would allow–one full year. After that, I would return home. Now, after living, working, and travelling around here for the past 8 months, I’ve decided that it’s time to move on to new adventures.

It’s been an incredible journey for sure. I remember in the weeks prior to leaving home having doubts about this trip. I asked myself questions: will I like it there? Will I make friends? Will I still be able to support myself financially? Can I manage being away for so long? I’m happy to say that I’ll be leaving New Zealand satisfied, knowing that during my time here I saw incredible places, shared some amazing experiences and memories with friends from all over the world, and discovered that I can get around on my own in a foreign country rather well. Besides all that, I never really looked forward to spending a winter down here anyway! Too cold. So as of the beginning of July I’ll be chasing the summer (again) and heading off to warmer places.

On another note, I’m still not sure exactly when I’ll be returning home to the States. This whole working and volunteering while travelling thing has worked pretty well for me. I’ve come to really enjoy this type of travel and have decided to continue on with it while I’m still able to do so. Come September, I’ll be going to Australia for another working holiday. How long will I be there? Who knows, but I’m excited to see what opportunities and new experiences might arise in the Land Down Under.

Hello Queenstown!

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I’m back in Queenstown again! It’s been six months since I was last here. It’s also been two months since I left Paihia and I’m more than ready to settle down again and take a rest from travelling. Seriously, living out of a backpack and being on the go all the time can be pretty tiring. Traveling from city to city, moving from one hostel to the next, constantly packing and unpacking, having to familiarize yourself to new places, getting around in unfamiliar territory, and having to constantly introduce yourself as you meet new people all the time gets exhausting after a while. I’m looking forward to having a break and getting back into a normal routine again.

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A lot has happened since I returned to the South Island. For nearly the whole month of April I worked a few hours a day for accommodation (through HelpX) at two different places around Abel Tasman National Park and Golden Bay. The work was mostly random chores: painting, chopping wood, cleaning, clearing bush for building projects, cleaning up storm damage, and eradicating invasive plant species from the forest. For the latter part of the month, I met up with my friend Ben (a French guy I worked with in the Bay of Islands) and we were able to work together and explore the area for a few weeks. Golden Bay was very nice and once the weather cleared up after a rather harsh Easter weekend storm, we managed to get out and see some really nice places. One of the highlights of our time there included a visit to Wharariki Beach–a big long sandy bay with lots of interesting rock formations, sea cliffs, caves, and even a little natural pool where baby seals play in. And despite being a rather popular beach for tourists, it’s big enough (and isolated enough) to where you can walk out away from the crowds and feel like you have the whole place to yourselves.

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Once our work was done there we hitched on down the West Coast to pick up Ben’s van, which had broken down a few weeks earlier in a town so small you would have missed it if you blinked. Fortunately there was a mechanic there and he was able to get the parts needed to get it going again. We then spent a couple days driving through Arthur’s Pass to Christchurch, where we ended up staying with a host family for a night. I forget exactly how Ben knew them (something like his father’s friend of a friend), but they were so nice and warmly welcomed us into their home. They even made a nice dinner for us! I couldn’t have been more thankful for their generous Kiwi hospitality.

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Afterwards, Ben and I parted ways as he went back to tour the North Island and I headed further south. Since being back on the South Island, I’ve managed to get around nearly the entire time by hitchhiking. Normally I would just take the bus, but I ran out of rides on my pass and wanted to try something a little more adventurous anyway. Hitching around New Zealand is still a popular way for travelers (and even locals) to see the country. Getting around in this manner requires a lot of patience and flexibility–I stood outside once in the rain for almost two hours. You may not get to where you’re going right away, but sometimes little detours can take you to some amazing places. It’s also good to have some degree of cautiousness as there are always weirdos around, no matter what country you’re in. But all the while I’ve been hitchhiking in New Zealand, I never had any incidents or uncomfortable moments. Instead I met lots of very nice and interesting people; both fellow travelers and locals, young and old.

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So that’s what I’ve been up to for the past month and half! It’s absolutely beautiful right now in Queenstown. I thought it was a beautiful place last time I was here in the spring, but the city really is at its best in autumn. The surrounding mountains are topped with fresh snow, the trees are showing off their vibrant fall colors, Lake Wakatipu looks so much clearer than from what I remember, the days are still somewhat warm, and at night the air is crisp and pure. I’ll be here for two months–until then I’ll be working and planning the next adventure.

The Tongariro Crossing: A Day in the Land of Mordor

The day had finally come.

We woke up early on the morning of March 14th and prepared ourselves for the long day ahead: a 19.4 km journey through some of New Zealand’s most dramatic and unique landscapes. Considered to be the best one day hike in the country, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing traverses active volcanoes and brings visitors up close and personal with both ancient and recent lava flows, rugged alpine wilderness, shimmering lakes, geothermal steam vents, and lush native forest. The most recent eruption in the area occurred as recently as November 2012 and parts of the park still show lots of signs of activity.

Our journey began in the wee hours of the morning in Taupo. Usually I’m not the kind of person who enjoys getting up at 5 AM (I’m sure no one does), but when there’s a fun adventure planned for the day I might as well be a kid waking up on Christmas morning. For the both of us, doing the Tongariro Crossing was high on our lists of things to do in New Zealand, so we wasted no time getting up and ready. After devouring a quick breakfast, we marched out and hopped on the shuttle bus packed with thirty or so other hikers fighting early morning grogginess. As we drove along the Desert Road toward the park, the first rays of light began to appear on the horizon, revealing a blue sky day. Perfect.

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Upon arrival at the trail head, what was a bus full of sleepy hikers suddenly became alive with activity as people hopped off, hastily gathered their gear, and started off down the path. The first section of the trail is rather easy as it leaves the car park, gradually rising through fields of alpine shrubs and grasses to a place called Soda Springs. As we got going, we noticed a lot of people seemed to be in a hurry. We’re pretty fast walkers to begin with, so we were a bit surprised to see people literally jogging past us then suddenly slow down as they got ahead. Eager to get to the top first maybe? Or maybe we just smelled. I don’t know. It was also pretty amusing seeing the “hiking attire” some people chose to wear that day–everything from skinny jeans, to vans, and yoga pants. Not really the proper outfits for hiking, especially in an environment where the weather can turn in a very short amount of time. We eventually caught up with all the speed demons once we got to the bottom of what’s called “The Devil’s Staircase”. From this point it’s a short, but steep, ascent up volcanic terrain that slows everyone’s pace down.

By the time we reached the South Crater, the sun had fully risen–casting its light upon the vast Central Plateau beneath us. We could see as far as Mt. Taranaki, a nearly perfect cone-shaped volcano some 140 kilometers away. From the entry to the South Crater, we took a detour off the beaten track and started the grueling climb toward the summit of Mt. Ngauruhoe. Also known as Mount Doom, it was the stand-in for the fictional volcano in the Lord of the Rings. The slope up the side of Ngauruhoe is nothing but loose ash and sharp volcanic rock. So like two little hobbitses, we climbed up Mount Doom–at times using both our hands and feet. The initial part of the climb was a difficult trudge; we would take two steps up only to slide down a step every time. In some places we found ourselves ankle deep in the ash, filling our shoes. Fortunately, we managed to reach a rock formation about 1/3 of the way up the mountain that provided solid ground to climb on most of the rest of the way to the summit.

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Upon arrival at the summit (2291 meters | 7516 feet), we sat down at the edge of the crater rim and had lunch while enjoying the incredible view. We could see much of the rest of the track and Lake Taupo to the north, along with views of the larger Mount Ruapehu to the south. As a Lord of the Rings fan, I even ceremoniously tossed a small plastic ring that I had been carrying around for a while into the crater. Normally it can get very cold and windy up at the summit, but that day it was so calm and peaceful. Not too hot, not too cold, and very little wind. It was the calm before the storm as a cyclone was due to hit the country several hours later. We were very lucky to have been blessed with such a fine day.

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Going down Mt. Ngauruhoe was much easier than going up. The loose ash enabled us to “moon walk” down the slope, putting pressure on our heels and sink into the scree with each step. Similar to running down a big sand dune. There was a close call at one point, when a bowling ball sized rock came loose from somewhere above and came hurling down within a few feet of us. Fortunately, the hikers who dislodged it called out “rock!” in time for us to get out of the way.

After a successful descent, we wandered back to the main path and continued on with the crossing. The South Crater basin is perfectly flat and was probably the easiest portion of the track. It was a short traverse and we soon arrived at the base of the Red Crater. This is considered the steepest part of the track, but having just climbed Mt. Ngauruhoe it was a walk in the park. Okay, so it was still quite of a workout…a bit exposed as well with two big drop-offs on either side of the path. At the top we were greeted by a large, gaping hole in the ground–the Red Crater. The highest point on the main track at 1886 meters (6187 feet), we let out a sigh of relief knowing that it was basically all downhill from here until the end. From here we began the descent down to the enchanting Emerald Lakes below us–a trio of vividly blue-green lakes whose colorful hue sharply contrasted with the surrounding stark volcanic landscape.

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We took a long break at the lakes and wolfed down the rest of the food we had brought. The water looked so inviting. We thought about going for a swim, but considering all the sulfur and who-knows-what-else was going on in there, we opted to remain dry on shore. Continuing on, we walked across another flat basin known as the Central Crater, past a rather large lake, and began our descent towards the car park. This section of the trail was previously closed to the public in the aftermath of the 2012 eruption, but has since been reopened. There is still some activity going on here, however. As we walked through the alpine valleys, we could still see  clouds of steam and gas rising out of the hillside just a kilometer or two away.

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We eventually reached a resting point at a hut with some restrooms just above the treeline. Here, we saw a sign saying the car park was only 45 minutes ahead. Should be a piece of cake right? We should get there in plenty of time before the last bus. That’s what we thought, but we were terribly wrong. The next 45 minutes might as well have been all of eternity. Physically, this portion of the track wasn’t a difficult at all, but mentally it just seemed like it went on, and on, and on. Shortly after leaving the shelter, the trail descends into the woods and there’s no clear view of exactly how far the car park is. We would go around one corner, thinking we would see the bus there, only to find more trees and dirt path to tread on. We had been walking with a German guy and a Dutch girl most of the day and all four of us started getting worried that we would miss the last bus. We weren’t really keen on walking another 100 km back to Taupo after finishing the track, so we ran. We ran for what seemed like forever until the end of the trail suddenly appeared, just in time to hop on the last bus!

The ride back to Taupo was all a haze. We were dead tired by the time Servan and I finally made it back to our hostel. I vaguely remember even eating dinner. Upon reaching our room, we both crashed and ended up sleeping for 12 hours–a good, long rest after a day in the “land of Mordor”.

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Doing the Tongariro Crossing was probably the absolute best thing I’ve done in New Zealand and I couldn’t have asked for a better day or better company to do it with. It’s a definite must do on anyone’s Kiwi experience! Here are a few tips for any future hikers:

  • Bring plenty of food and water. The only water that’s safe to drink on the track is whatever you bring in with you.
  • Expect the worse. Be prepared with proper clothing for any kind of weather conditions. In the mountains, it can be hot and sunny one moment but then turn freezing cold with blowing snow in a short amount of time. Even if it’s supposed to be a nice day, it’s better to have your raincoat in a sudden rainstorm than not.
  • Shoes: Boots are definitely a good option if you have them. We made it through just fine in running shoes.
  • Be sure to wear sunscreen! With a lack of ozone in the atmosphere above New Zealand, the UV rays here are stronger than most other parts of the world. Most of the track is out in the open with no shade to protect you.
  • If you go in the winter or early spring (June-October), be aware that there can be snow on the mountain requiring the use of crampons and an ice axe.
  • It might also be a good idea to have a first aid kit with you. It would be really hard not to slip and fall at least once on the trail, especially with all the loose dirt and sharp rocks on the trail.
  • Be mindful of the weather and check the forecast before you go. MetService is a good source.
  • If you need to book a bus pick-up to the park, make sure you do so at least the day before. You can do this at any hostel or iSite. Bus fares generally range from $20-$65 depending on where you get picked up from. Staying in towns close to the mountain, like National Park, will be a cheaper ride.

Exploring the North Island

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What an amazing past 3 weeks it’s been! I originally planned on doing more updates as I was traveling, but kind of went on Internet hiatus instead. I’ve made it back to the South Island (for good this time) and the hostel I’m in at the moment is awesome–nice people, nice atmosphere, and one of the few places I’ve been in NZ with free unlimited WiFi. So now that I have proper connection again, I can catch up on where I’ve been.

After leaving Paihia I took the bus to Taupo where I met up with my companion, Servan, whom I had gotten to know while in the Bay of Islands. I really liked Taupo. It’s a small town situated on the shores of a huge lake right in the middle of the North Island. Across the lake there are some nice views on a clear day of the volcanoes at the nearby Tongariro National Park. While most people come here for bungee jumping, skydiving, mountain biking, and other extreme outdoor activities (there’s a reason why Taupo is called the “adventure capital of the north”), we mostly spent our days in town doing a few hikes along the Waikato River and swimming in the lake. Huka Falls is the most popular free attraction in town, so naturally we went there. The area is also known for its geothermal activity, so we went to this place that some friends recommended where a hot spring flows into the main river. The water from the spring was actually really hot, so we had to find the “goldilocks zone” where the water was warm. A nice little local secret worth visiting!

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We also spent a couple of days doing some activities outside of Taupo, including the Tongariro Alpine Crossing (which I’ll save for another post) and a rafting trip on the Kaituna River near Rotorua. We found a good deal for the rafting on BookMe (New Zealand’s version of Groupon) and had heaps of fun with that. It was a short trip (only 50 minutes or so), but the river flows through this beautiful, narrow, lush green canyon with a few big drops. The river is best known to have the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world at 7 meters (21 feet). Overall, it was a crazy fun ride. Here’s a video of the falls! It’s not mine unfortunately, but it was definitely one of those times that I really wish I had a GoPro.

After leaving Taupo, we took a bus to Tauranga where we spent a few days at the beach and hiked Mount Maunganui. After that we rented a car for 5 days and drove up through the Coromandel (where more hiking and hanging out on the beaches ensued), followed by a very long drive out to the East Cape to Gisborne and down to Napier. There’s really not a whole lot to say other than we did a whole lot of driving, swimming, and lazing about on some really beautiful beaches…despite it being officially autumn in New Zealand, it still felt like summer in the Coromandel. Napier was also nice, with its famous architecture and unique style. Back in the 30s a big earthquake destroyed the city, so when it was rebuilt it was designed in art deco fashion. We noticed quite a few classic cars driving around as well, so walking through the city felt like a little trip back in time.

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After returning the car in Tauranga, we bused back to Auckland where we spent a few days in the city and a couple out on the west coast at Piha Beach–a popular surf spot for Aucklanders. These were Servan’s last days in New Zealand as the time eventually came when he had to go back home. It’s never easy saying goodbye and this one was no exception. After weeks of being together 24/7, sharing all these incredible experiences, it felt strange being on my own again. Fortunately, I managed to reconnect with another friend in Auckland and now another as I write this in Picton on the South Island. That’s one of the things I love about New Zealand. It’s a small country–small enough so it’s easy to travel around and you’re never too far away from your friends!

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So at the moment I’m back on the South Island again ready for the next adventure, which will hopefully entail some wwoofing (working on a farm) or finding some volunteer work at a backpackers around Abel Tasman for the next few weeks.