Trekking the Santa Cruz Trail

After a solid but not long enough sleep, L and I woke at 5:30am to be picked up for our Santa Cruz trek. Still tired from the day before I stayed awake long enough to put my bags in the van and find a window seat before falling asleep again. When I woke a short time later, the van had filled up with seven more people all joining us on the trip. The bus ride went for about two hours and I spent that time drifting in and out of sleep. It was a bumpy old ride, which didn’t make for ideal sleeping conditions but the rest of the passengers in the bus and myself seemed to make it manage.

We were woken abruptly to stop for breakfast at the same place we stopped at yesterday. Having already packed breakfast because we were organised, I ordered a coffee and stocked up on the delicious chocolate bars I discovered there. We were ushered back into the van and driven for another two hours, high into the Cordillera Blanca. The scenery was absolutely gobsmacking; we switch-backed up a high mountain range and reached up to 4,800 metres above sea level. Stopping near to the top, we had a quick photo stop and were in awe of the view below up. The Cordillera Blanca stood majestically before us and the windy road we had just climbed up zig-zigged below. There were so many snowy peaks that I just couldn’t even deal – and this was only day one!

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Amazing colours on the drive to the National Park
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Just part of the view from our drive up to 4,800m
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L and I looking rather perky after a 5:30am start!

We drove on for a bit longer until we reached the starting point of the trek. We stopped in a small village called La Vaquería and gave our bigger bags to the Sherpa’s and got acquainted with the rest of the group. There were five 18 year British boys that were on their gap year who were hilarious and just adorable and a German couple, who were doctors on a short hiking holiday. For the next couple of hours we went up an down grassy slopes passing small villages, where the local Peruvians were going about their everyday lives. It definitely would be a peaceful existence out here in the Andes, with all the fresh air and no worries of the modern world. After about four hours of hiking we reached the campsite in the Paria Valley.

Our camp was right near a rushing creek and surrounding us were huge mountains, some covered in snow. A large waterfall cascaded down a mountain and despite the thin air, I felt well and truly alive. While this was supposed to be the easy day of the trek, the sudden incline into higher altitude knocked us around a bit and we were so glad to finally be here! One of the perks of doing a trek with a tour group is that they set up camp for you and cook you all your meals. Call me a princess but after a day of hiking, I was in no mood to set up a tent! We settled into our tents and then had tea and biscuits while waiting for dinner. As the sun dropped behind the mountains it started to get very chilly and we huddled in the meal tent until dinner was served a little awhile later. It was amazing what our cooks could make out here in the mountains; we had delicious soup and meat with rice and vegetables – very Peruvian and very delicious. After dinner we chatted for a while before slowly all sneaking into our tents to sleep. It was only early but we were on all energy-conserving mode for the following day, which was supposed to be the hardest hike.

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Day one of the hike, so many gorgeous valleys!
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One of the pack horses for the trek

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Our campsite for the night

We were woken early the next morning by our guide Ricardo and wiped the sleep from our eyes while we had breakfast. Toast and eggs with coca tea and we were good to go. During todays hike we would climb over 1000 metres and walk about 12 kilometres. L and I had psyched ourselves up for this day and took it slowly as we climbed the rocky tracks higher and higher. Stopping every couple of metres, I stopped to admire the view and to suck in whatever air I could. The ten of us were the only ones on the trail and it felt like we were lost somewhere on the set of the Lord of the Rings. Lush green mountains surrounded us and grey clouds sat low, covering the snowy peaks. We climbed higher, passing small lagoons and rocky peaks. I was glad my Kathmandu hiking boots had good ankle support, this track was definitely ankle breaking inducing!

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Where’s Frodo?
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The grey clouds made for great reflections!
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Up, up, up

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Hiking on for a couple more hours, we slowly made the climb up to the pass, Punta Union. The last stretch of the climb was the hardest as the thin air made it nearly impossible to climb up the uneven, rocky path. Once I reached the top however all my previous pain disappeared. 4,800 metres have never been more worth it! The view was absolutely stunning! 360 degrees of mountainous beauty. A turquoise coloured laguna sat below a snowy peak and a massive valley encompassed by more huge mountains stood to the left. The wind was howling this high up so I found a little perch that blocked the wind and allowed my to eat my lunch in front of this amazing view.We stayed at the top of the pass for about forty-five minutes – even though it only felt like five – before starting the descent down to our next campsite. Now that we’d tackled the hard part of the trek (which actually wasn’t as hard as the trek to Laguna 69 to be honest) we had a downhill run for the rest of the trip.

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Made it! And made a furry friend! I’m getting good at adopting animals on hikes

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Our group at the top of Punta Union

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My new furry little mate
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Please ignore my dopey face – so happy!
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Stoked as! L and I hamming it up for the cameras

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Slowly making our way downhill, I had to keep stopping to enjoy the landscapes around me. I’d taken to walking alone with my headphones on and pretending I was in a music video. It made the downhill trek easier and took my mind of my aching knees. It also meant I could stop whenever I like to do a little happy dance because I was so damn pleased with myself! On this fine Thursday afternoon, here I was somewhere in the Andes mountains when my friends back home were at work – how could I complain with that!

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L and I with the British boys who were absolutely adorable!
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These views though!
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Taking a well deserved break (ha!)
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The road to our camp

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It took about an hour to trek down to the campsite, which was in the heart of the lush valley. I kept turning around to catch one last glimpse of the beautiful snowy mountains, but needn’t have worried because our camp was set up with a 360 degree view of the Cordillera Blanca. Our meal tent looked directly out to the infamous peak Artesonraju, or more commonly known as Paramount Mountain. Yes, that very mountain from the Paramount Pictures logo was standing right before me as I threw back coca tea. Dinner was an early affair and we huddled in the meal tent out of the frigid cold. It wasn’t as chilly as the night before despite being higher in altitude but it was still bitterly cold. Just before I went to bed, the sky cleared and Paramount Mountain glowed in the full moon’s light – it was a perfect way to finish the day!

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One of the boys enjoying the scenery
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Ah the serenity!

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Sweet little mountain ponies

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Paramount Mountain in the fading daylight

The following morning we had another early start because we planned to reach the end of the trail.While we were on the four day trek, it was possible to finish in three and meant we could enjoy the hot springs in the small town we finished in, winning! We started our hike by heading up to the view point to see the Paramount Mountain properly. Despite the clear skies though, it didn’t quite look like the logo – but that didn’t mean it wasn’t any less cooler! I guess I’m just a nerd when it comes to things like this, the smallest things excite me!

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Paramount Mountain – not quite like the famous logo
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Views of the valler
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The token alpaca

The hike down was beautiful as we crossed an empty river, fully of ankle breaking stones and headed into the valley that we had seen from Punta Union the day before. We were flying through the trail and had made it halfway before 10am. We stopped for a food break and continued on where to trail starting to descent rather abruptly. I have to say, hiking downhill has to be worse than going uphill. The pressure on my hips and knees is going to bite me in the butt when I’m older I just know it! By early afternoon we were reaching the end of the trail and the hot sun starting pounding down on us. By now we had been walking for about five hours and the novelty was starting to wear off. I was tired and my toes hurt from squishing into my hiking boots from every step down, but just as I was ready to break we reached the small town of Cashapampa where our camp was set up ready for us!

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More animal friends

Celebrating with a hard earning Cocoa-Cola and chic-chip bikkies, we were stoked to have made it. It was still only early and our guide Ricardo was impressed with our efforts, he said we absolutely smashed it (well the British boys said it, but you know) We spent the afternoon chilling out at our little campsite before devouring a feast for dinner and talking late into the night. We didn’t even go to the hot springs that have enticed us the day before, it was a 35 minute walk away and we were so done with walking!

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Our little tour group

The following morning we had an easy start as the bus wasn’t coming to pick us up until 10am so we ate breakfast and lazed about until the van arrived and took us back to Huaraz. My first overnight hike was definitely a success and I’d happily do another one in a second! However I was ready to get back down to sea level and get some beach time in! It’s been a long time coming and I couldn’t wait to hit warmer weather!

J. x

Lost My Breath at Laguna 69

Laguna 69 is a place that I’ve never heard of before I stepped onto South American soil. It was in Lima the first time when I heard about this incredible place. A couple I had met had just come from Huaraz and told me it was an absolute must-do in Peru. After seeing their photos I had to agree, Laguna 69 was officially on the bucket list. Three months after I learnt about the Laguna, I was finally on my way to see this magical place.

My new French friend L and I caught the night bus from Lima to Huaraz and after a bumpy ride we made it into Huaraz early in the morning. It was a little chilly here which was a big change from hot Lima so we rugged up in whatever gear we had on hand and walked into the town to find a hostel. Akilpo Hostel seemed like a good option, mainly because it was the first one we came across! We checked in and luckily got to go to the room straight away, where we passed out for an hour or two. The thing about catching a night bus is that it is good in theory to use it as not only a way of transportation but as a bed for the night. However usually you don’t get much sleep anyway and spend the next day tired as hell.

We stirred around 9:30am and headed out in search of breakfast. Huaraz had a similar feel to Bolivia with its crazy, hectic streets, unfinished buildings and women in traditional clothing. It was definitely a big contrast to modern Lima but I liked it as it made me feel like I was back in the ‘real South America’. We found a little sandwich shop and ordered breakfast sandwiches, coffee and fresh juice for the bargain price of $1.50AUD – I liked this place already! After breakfast we went out in search of a travel agency to book our trips. Not only did I want to do Laguna 69 but also the Santa Cruz trek which is a four day hike through the Andes mountains. We managed to negotiate a good price for both tours and all of a sudden, our next five days were booked up!

We were doing the Laguna 69 trek first as an ‘acclimatisation’ to the altitude even though I’d heard it was the harder of the two treks, but after spending the last month or so in high altitude in Bolivia I was sure I’d be able to handle it. We checked out Huaraz for the rest of the day and got organised for the two trips before heading to bed early ready for a big day.

The following morning at 5am we were picked up and driven a couple of hours to the starting point of the Laguna 69 hike in the Cordillera Blanca. A quick stop for breakfast and toilets and to pay the National Park fee and then we were on our way. The first part of the hike was nice and cruisy as we walked through lush fields surrounded by snowy mountains. Despite the lack of oxygen at 3,900m above sea level, I felt like I could really breathe here. After being in stuffy Lima for a couple of days, it was nice to get back to nature and suck in all the fresh air that I could!

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The drive through Cordillera Blanca to the starting point of Laguna 69
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SO MUCH SNOW!
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Views from the start of the hike

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We slowly inclined up rocky path, jumping over flowing creeks and admiring nearby waterfalls. Yet again, I was overly excited about the snow on the mountains and couldn’t believe I was spending the next four days surrounded by them. For years I have thought that I was a beach girl however after travelling through South America I was torn between the beach and the mountains – and at this point, the mountains were winning!

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Can’t breathe, still smiling!

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We hiked on and up, slowly inclining to a higher altitude and lack of breath. We reached the top of the first incline and the trail flattened out into a valley, where we caught our breath and shed some clothes. The sun was starting to bear down and despite the chill in the air, I was getting clammy! We hiked on, our group dispersed all over the trail. L and I were one of the first few and I didm’t want to lose my spot, I wanted to be one of the first to see the Laguna! The second incline was a lot tougher than the first and it took a lot of stopping and promising myself with chocolate bars to keep going!

Finally, finally after many stops and wondering why I decided to like hiking we made it to the top. Racing down the stony path I knew what I would be seeing in a matter of steps. Within a hundred metres I could see that infamous turquoise water shining in the morning sun. Overwhelmed with adrenaline and excitement I raced closed and squealed with delight – the Laguna looked even better in real life! 4,600 metres above sea level and no oxygen but all the views! Clambering onto a big rock away from everyone I sat down to catch my breath and to take in the view. There were no words to describe the view – actually there are hundreds but words don’t do it justice. Photos don’t either but here are a couple for you to get a little idea of the magic I was witnessing.

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Made it!

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So, so blue!

I got closer to the Laguna and we ate our packed lunch by the clear waters. A lone cow was roaming around looking for food so I bribed her with cookies to get a selfie! We stayed for about an hour and just took in the amazing beauty that Mother Nature had shown us. Peru truly has every kind of environment possible. It was hard to believe two days ago I was at the beach and now I’m deep in the mountains. It’s one of the reasons why its my favourite country.

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Making pals everywhere :p

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The healthy part of my lunch. The rest was chocolate bars and biscuits!

Reluctantly after an hour or so we had to head back so we slowly made our way down the mountainous trail. The views were still spectacular this way and the vision of Laguna 69 was still deeply imprinted into my retinas. If this was an indication of the next few days to come, I was going to be constantly in awe of nature. It took us considerably less time to hike back down and by the time we reached the bus I was tired but happy. Stuffing my last chocolate bar down, L and I gushed over the magnificent scenery before passing out on the bus journey home. We reached the hostel around 7pm and had to organise our bags for our next trip.

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On the way back down

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Last stop before the bus back to Huaraz

If you make it to Peru, add Laguna 69 to your list ASAP. It’s not that hard of a trek if you’re relatively fit as long as you give yourself a bit of time to acclimatise to the altitude. You won’t regret it!

J. x

 

 

Aloha Hawaii! Day 1 in O’ahu

We arrived into Honolulu at 5:45am after a rather lovely flight from Brisbane. The plane was only about half full so as soon as the seatbelt sign switched off, K, L and myself dispersed and claimed a row to ourselves. For an el cheapo Jetstar flight that we’d been dreading, it was actually one of the easiest flights I’d been on!

The three of us made it through baggage and customs quickly and hailed a taxi to take us to our hostel in downtown Waikiki. We were staying at the Waikiki Hostel International, which was about a 25-minute drive from the airport. Even though it was nearing 6:30am, the sky was still covered in a blanket of darkness and we could only see the outline of the palm tress and skyscrapers. By the time we reached our hostel, the sun had made an appearance and the city started to come to light. We were way too early for reception to be open, let alone checking in time so we did what every self-respecting human would do. We went to find food.

Walking towards the water and the main strip, the city began to come alive with a mix of street cleaners, shop owners and early birds who came out to watch the sunrise. We walked right out to the edge of the sand and looked out at the blue water, relishing the fact that we’d arrived. Waikiki was exactly how I expected. Palm trees swayed in the slight breeze, surfers and paddle-boarders floating on the azure coloured water and high rises lining the beach from one end to the other. It had a similar atmosphere to the Gold Coast, but a little more island-y.

Instead of forking out a bunch of dollars on a restaurant breakfast, we had too much fun in an ABC store (like a 7/11 on roids) and picked out heaps of random things to sample for breakfast. Making a little picnic in a grassy area by the beach we devoured our food and watched Waikiki wake up. There was a slight chill in the air, which stopped us from jumping into the water then and there so we settled for watching the surfers catch the tiny waves until our hostel opened.

Around 7:30am we meandered back to our hostel and dropped our gear off that we wouldn’t need for the day. Going with the theory that if we stayed up all day we would miss the whole jetlag situation, we got changed into swimmers and headed for the beach.

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Streets of Waikiki

By the time we were down at the beach, Waikiki had truly come to life. There were people everywhere. We found a patch of sand to call ours and made a beeline for the water. The water seemed saltier than back home so we floated like buoys under the increasingly hot sun. We laid out on the beach, enjoying the sun until the itch for coffee got too much. Wandering down the strip to the nearest Starbucks we got our caffeine fix, we wondered why people were starting to line the streets with sun chairs and eskies. As it turns out, it was Martin Luther King Jnr day (ignorant Aussie right here) and the city of Honolulu was here to celebrate him!

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The beginning of the Martin Luther King Jnr Day parade

We watched the parade for awhile, impressed with the passion and vigour of these locals. They knew what they wanted and weren’t afraid to say it. Group after group of people chanted and marched down the busy main street, adamant in their beliefs. We watched the parade for awhile before heading back to the water to cool down again and deciding to do something productive for the day.

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L taking in the views of downtown Waikiki
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Ah the things you find in the ABC store – A Jagermeister lei!

Walking through the streets with the intention of finding stand up paddle-boards but this quickly changed to bicycles after finding a good deal. We took off in the direction of Diamond Head and hoped for the best. After working out which side of the road to ride on and a brief lowdown of the road rules from a local, we pedalled off on an adventure. What we found was a very steep hill, which just seemed to keep going. The bikes weren’t exactly Tour de France worthy, making getting up that hill a workout and a half! However we were rewarded with constant view of sapphire coloured water and swaying palm trees so it’s hard to complain. At the top of the hill, we found a path down to the water, which we gladly walked down and leapt straight into the waiting ocean.

This little beach was much quieter than the busy shores of Waikiki. Full of surfers and body boarders this seemed like a local jaunt as the gnarliest looking guys kept coming in and out of the water. We swam, sun-baked and checked out the surfers until our stomachs started to grumble.

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Our little secluded beach
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Much quieter and peaceful than Waikiki Beach!

Riding the bikes down the hill much easier and quicker and we reached downtown Waikiki in no time. Taking a different route to last time (not planned) we ended up finding an ocean blue food truck offering some local Hawaiian fare. Not one to pass up on freshly cooked food, we ordered coconut shrimp and salmon and shrimp poy bo and sat at the makeshift tables in the shade.

The food was delicious to say the least. The shrimp and salmon were fresh, crunchy and full of flavour. We devoured the food in minutes, totally satisfied with our choices. If this was an indication of the food we would be eating, I was absolutely okay with it.

Deciding to ditch the bikes for awhile, we got back on the foot falcon and walked around the streets a bit more. Ending up in the more upmarket part of town, we quickly discovered our sandy feet and wet hair wasn’t really welcome in the likes of Jimmy Choo and Tiffanys! Luckily it was time to properly check in to our hostel so we hoofed it back and had some down time in our room to recuperate a bit.

Wanting to catch the sunset, we showered and dressed up ready to watch the sun fall below the horizon. It seems like everyone else in Honolulu had the same idea as us, making finding a spot on the beach near impossible! We found a spot just as the sun dropped below the water line. It disappeared so quickly, but we managed to catch the final rays. The crowd erupted into applause and exclamations of the sunsets beauty. It was nice to see that in this crazy concrete jungle of Waikiki, that Mother Nature was still appreciated.

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Sunset at Waikiki Beach
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Looking out to Diamond Head
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Such a glorious end to our first day!

Just as quickly as the sun went down, the city lit up in blinding lights. Nighttime in Waikiki had begun! We searched the strip for somewhere to eat and ended up at a Mexican restaurant one street back from the strip. Cheers-ing to our first day in Hawaii we discussed plans for the next few days. Despite the fun and hustle and bustle of Waikiki, we decided it was too touristy for us. Making plans to head north a day early, we rearranged our plans a touch so we could escape the busy strip and discover some of the real Hawaii..

It sounded like a solid plan. I couldn’t wait!

Until tomorrow..

J. x

Day 10 – Coffee, Op-shops and the World of Wearable Art Museum.

I won’t lie – today we all woke up with a ripper hangover. Thank you very much Nelson and your delicious wine. After a shaky and slow start we left Mimi in the New World car park for a little longer while we searched for coffee to kick this hangover. S and B got distracted by some op-shops so K and I searched on until we found Paula’s Plate just off the main street in Nelson.

This adorable little cafe was kitschy and cute and had the best tiled entrance I’ve seen in New Zealand. Paula’s Plate uses local produce from around the Nelson region to create delicious and fresh food. K and I were still a little too shady to order anything edible – though the menu sounded so so good – so we settled for a takeaway coffee until the remnants of our hangover disappeared. I later discovered (thanks Google) that Paula was runner-up in the TV show Masterchef in 2013!

The adorable entrance to Paula's Plate in Nelson
The adorable entrance to Paula’s Plate in Nelson

We caught up with S and B and had a wander through some of Nelson’s shops before the sweet scent of cinnamon wafted under our noses. Eager to investigate, we walked down a little arcade to discover a little artisan bakery tucked away in the back corner. L’Artisan Bakery smelled even better inside the shop, I closed my eyes and let my senses take over. The baker announced she had freshly baked cinnamon buns cooling off, ready to be devoured so not ones to stray from the offer of food, we chowed down the deliciously gooey, sweet treats. We had a sample of some of the other goodies but nothing compared to the sticky cinnamon buns.

Wandering slow back to Mimi, we perused through all sorts of shops and art galleries. It was such a pleasant way to work out the hangover. Deciding it was time to move on, we had one quick final grocery shop at our campsite – the New World supermarket – before driving out of Nelson towards Blenheim.

It wasn’t until we were about 5km that we realised we had forgotten to go to the main thing we wanted to see in Nelson – the World of Wearable Art museum. Chucking a slightly illegal u-turn, we navigated back to the museum all of us pretending that blonde moment never occurred.

The World of Wearable Art and Classic Cars Museum is where many award winning creations of wearable art garments come to live after they are showcased in the annual World of Wearable Art performances held in Wellington. Designed by people all over the world, these dramatic and intricate pieces of wearable art are inspired by local flora, fauna and culture.

Pieces from the World of Wearable Art Museum
Pieces from the World of Wearable Art Museum

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The showcase was slightly eery, mainly because I have a slight phobia of mannequins and that they were all in a dark room illuminated by small lights. But there was no denying the hours of work that has gone into these pieces and it shows, it truly was a unique way to display art.

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The Classic Cars part of the museum was equally as enthralling, with the cars presented to the highest standard. The exhibition showcased the evolution of the motor vehicle and how the styles and designs have changed over time. I’m no car enthusiast – I’ve been driving the same car since high school – but these metal beasts sure were eye-catching!

By the time we had looked through both exhibitions, our stomachs were growling something chronic so the Speight’s Ale House just across the road was looking mighty welcoming. These ale houses pop up all over New Zealand and really are just a fancy pub, but the meals are absolutely delicious. As usual, our eyes were bigger than our stomachs and we ordered enough to feed a small nation.

Part of our feast at Speight's Ale House in Nelson. So, so good!
Part of our feast at Speight’s Ale House in Nelson. So, so good!

Struggling to walk back to Mimi because we were so full, it was late afternoon by the time we were on the road to Blenheim. We decided to free camp tonight again before splurging on a powered site in Blenheim because tomorrow we intended on doing a winery tour and wanted to look pretty – therefore electricity, showers and mirrors were a necessity! Our free camping spot was outside of Blenheim near a picnic area. It was absolutely freezing so we huddled in Mimi with our heater blaring. We were pretty knackered after a long day of adventure and driving and wanted to be fresh for our wine tour tomorrow so we called it a night early – not even attempting a game of cards!

Tomorrow we sample the best of the Marlborough region!

J. x

 

Day 9 continued – Seals, New Zealand’s longest swing bridge and camping at a supermarket.

For a day that we had made absolutely no plans for, it turned out to be one of our busiest and jam-packed days! After saying our goodbyes to Pancake Rocks with one final selfie, we jumped back in Mimi and planned on cutting across the top of the top island towards Nelson. What was becoming a regular trend for the four of us, we only made it an hour down the road before getting side-tracked by a sign on the road. This one said ‘Seal Colony – 12km’ and there was no hesitation from any of us. K slammed the brakes we made a beeline for the seals. Consulting our trusty road map, we learnt that the colony was located at Cape Foulwind, an appropriate name for a point of the west coast.

Cape Foulwind - the most appropriately named place in New Zealand.
Cape Foulwind – the most appropriately named place in New Zealand.
 We found the seal colony easily and after a short walk, we were greeted by a viewing platform that overlooked the colony. Cape Foulwind was certainly living up to its name and the vicious winds were knocking us about for a six. The viewing platform was quite high up from the colony but the shiny fur of the seals were unmistakable. Excited at our first proper seal sighting, we squealed like little girls and were mesmerised by their antics for a good half hour or so.
Spot the seal!
Spot the seal!
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Stopping in for a drinks break at a lone cafe just down the road, we found a pamphlet for New Zealand’s longest swing bridge. The Buller Gorge Swing Bridge, located just outside Murchison, was a couple of hours drive away so we voted to swing by there for lunch (pun totally intended). It was another windy drive and while the distance wasn’t that long, it took forever to get there! By the time we reached the swing bridge, we were itching to get out and stretch our legs.
The beautiful Buller Gorge and swing bridge, just outside Murchinson.
The beautiful Buller Gorge and swing bridge, just outside Murchinson.
The Buller Gorge Swing bridge is 110 metres of swaying rope that hangs precariously across the Buller River. You can walk across the bridge and explore the surroundings of the Buller Gorge area, enjoying a bush walk through the native New Zealand nature. Or, if you’re a little bit more adventurous, try 160m Cometline across the river. Not one to shy away from some fun, we booked tickets and paired up to do the tandem Cometline. It was exhilarating as we whizzed across the river at lightning speed. I’d probably rate it a 6 out of 10 for being an adrenaline raiser. Its no bungee jump but definitely something that the whole family can do.
Walking across the Buller Gorge Swing Bridge
Walking across the Buller Gorge Swing Bridge
Being the only people there, we mucked around on the bridge for a long time!
Being the only people there, we mucked around on the bridge for a long time!

While our heart rates settled back to normal, we made a quick lunch in the van while the rain started to spit down on us before continuing on towards Nelson. Not going to lie, we may have underestimated the driving time for today as it seemed like we would never get to Nelson!

I took over driving for awhile while K had a nap and I had to commend her on her driving skills. These windy roads took a lot of focus and concentration – the fact that she could sing along with us and drive on the right side of the road was a miracle!

The long day was starting to take a toll on our energy and mood levels and by the time we reached the outskirts of Nelson, we were ready of a wine or five. Discovering that we could free camp at the local New World supermarket, we battled through peak hour traffic and reversed Mimi into a first class park right outside the supermarket entrance. Our mood levels lifted as we giggled over camping spot for the night. It wasn’t quite as spectacular as the snow capped mountains and sapphire coloured lakes we’d camped beside previously, but A+ for convenience!

The need for an alcoholic beverage for pretty high by this stage so we braved the dodgy looking pub across the road and discovered $10 jugs of cider available. Suddenly, the Post Boy on the corner wasn’t looking so dodgy! After a jug (or three, but who’s counting?) we walked to the centre of town and found a Mac’s Brewery offering burgers and wine. Nelson was just speaking our language and we got a little carried away. Several bottles later and a lot of inappropriate conversation, we stumbled back to Mimi – still finding camping beside a supermarket hilarious.

Tomorrow morning may hurt. But we’re exploring Nelson!

J. x

 

Day 7 – Tekapo, not quite what we expected.

Sometimes when travelling, you build up a high expectation of a place and when you finally arrive your past illusion is shattered by reality and you leave feeling a little let down.

We were en route to Lake Tekapo where the promise of turquoise waters and forest scenery were waiting for us. Passing through the mountainous range of Twizel and Mt Cook, we wasted driving time by singing Taylor Swift and Shania Twain into the GoPro and unfortunately running over something we think was a cat. Oops.

It was mid afternoon by the time we stopped at the southern end of Lake Pukaki for a break. We made a unanimous decision to skip Mt Cook and save more time for the north of NZ (hello wine country!) so instead of heading up towards Aoraki, we continued northwest onto Lake Tekapo.

A quick stop at Lake Pukaki
A quick stop at Lake Pukaki

I don’t know why I had such a built up of anticipation for Lake Tekapo. I guess the unnaturally blue waters you see in photos on Instagram have a lot to do with it, but as we drove into Tekapo I admittedly was slightly underwhelmed. It might just have been the wrong time of day and season, but the whole area was a little gloomier than I had expected. We stopped in for a walk down to the Lake to appreciate the clear, turquoise water. The photos don’t lie, it is a bright hue of blue and crystal clear. The grey stones that hugged the water were smooth and the sparse shrubs that popped up every now and then were spiky. I had envisioned rich forestry surrounding the lake but in actual fact the landscape was rather arid.

The clear waters of Lake Tekapo.
The clear waters of Lake Tekapo. (note -this is just slightly edited 😉 )

We took a drive to find a campsite for the night up near the neighbouring lake of Lake Alexandria when we saw a turn off for Mt John Observatory. Not one to miss something, K navigated Mimi up the steep and windy road until we reached the top. They weren’t kidding, there actually was a proper observatory up here – and a cafe, and we don’t say no to a cafe.

The Mt. John Observatory is New Zealand’s premier astronomical research observatory. This is due to Lake Tekapo having the most spectacular night skies in the world. The clarity and visibility of stars in this area are the reason why Mt John Observatory has made it known to astronomers universally wide.

The bare and arid surroundings of Mt John Observatory. You wouldn't believe how cold it was up here!
The bare and arid surroundings of Mt John Observatory. You wouldn’t believe how cold it was up here!

We had a wander around the site and absorbed in the stark landscape that surrounded us. The wind was bitterly cold and the view could be seen for miles. It was such a remarkable change to greenery we saw further south. Just another reason why New Zealand is so fascinating – there is just so many different things to see. Stopping in at Astro Cafe for a sugar kick, we ordered coffee and the biggest brownie I’ve seen. Astro Cafe has been called ‘the best place on the planet for a coffee’ and I would have to agree. Not only was the view of Lake Tekapo spectacular, the coffee and brownie were pretty dang delicious – jut what we needed to keep us going to find a free camping spot for the night.

Sitting on top of the world... sort of.
Sitting on top of the world… sort of.
Delicious treats from Astro Cafe, at Mt John Observatory.
Delicious treats from Astro Cafe, at Mt John Observatory.

Using the Jucy app we had planned to stay at a freedom camping spot at Lake Alexandria, which was close to Mt John. However as we pulled into the sparse, ghost town-like setting, there was a chill that set over the van. It felt a bit like the beginnings of a horror movie – the decrepit, empty caravans, rubbish rolling in the breeze and not a soul in sight. We made the unanimous decision to hightail it out of there and find somewhere else with a little more life about it.

Driving out of Tekapo, I was a little sad that it wasn’t how I imagined it. For future reference I think more time is needed there, just to explore and witness the gloriously blue lake at a different time of day. While I was happy to be driving out of Tekapo, I was sad that we hadn’t given it more of a chance… But I was in no mood to be a main character in the next Saw movie.

On the road again, just can't wait to be on the road again..
On the road again, just can’t wait to be on the road again..

We drove on, following a threatening dark storm cloud until we reached the small town of Fairlie. The night was definitely upon us and we were tired and eager to get out of Mimi for awhile. Flying past a sign for accommodation we did a U-turn and found ourselves at Musterers High Country Accommodation. It looked perfect – but more on that next post!

J. x

Day 6 – Burgers and the Beauty of Wanaka

The arrival into Wanaka is nothing short of beautiful. The snow capped mountains surround the sapphire coloured lake and the tree lined streets are full of delicious cafes and funky shops. It was getting to the point in our trip that we were becoming a bit blasé towards the scenery. “Oh look, another beautiful snowy mountain” or “Ah yes, more crystal clear water”.

Beautiful, beautiful Lake Wanaka
Beautiful, beautiful Lake Wanaka

We parked up by Lake Wanaka in search of lunch. S’s old housemate had recommended Red Star burgers, and not one to stray away from a burger we made a beeline towards the little burger joint. After a little misadventure (we got lost) we finally arrived at Red Star Burgers ravenous and ready to sample their fare.

One might say that Red Star Burgers are competition to Fergburger in Queenstown, one might also say that they are better than Fergburger in Queenstown – but one doesn’t want the wrath of hardcore Ferburger fans so she is staying quiet. Buuuut, Red Star Burgers were bloody delicious. I don’t know whether we chose better burgers there or maybe it was the kumara chips, but my vote sits with Red Star. I think mainly it was because their satay chicken burger was off chops. Though as far as atmosphere and vibes go, Fergburger wins hands down. Red Star was a little out of place on top of the hill in Wanaka, but maybe we were just there at the wrong time.

Mmmmm Red Star Burgers did not disappoint.
Mmmmm Red Star Burgers did not disappoint.

After our burgers we browsed the little town of Wanaka and tried to digest our massive lunch. Once again we let our eyes order, which we mostly always regret – but those burgers were definitely worth it.

The shops in Wanaka were just a little bit different to those in Queenstown and the souvenirs weren’t like what we’d been seeing everywhere. We shopped for awhile before moving Mimi into the campground at Wanaka Lakeview Holiday Park. It was the closest one to town and had a waterfront view – not to shabby for $18pp!

Running short of clothes we spent the rest of the afternoon washing and cleaning Mimi so she was presentable again, before K and I went for a walk around the lake to work off some of the burgers from earlier today. It was nearing dusk by the time we got our runners on and the sun was settling on the lake, leaving a golden glow around the town. The sky was clear and the crisp mountain air made your fingers burn and your breath visible. We followed a track parallel to the lake until darkness descended around us, forcing us to turn back to home.

Looking back towards the town of Wanaka
Looking back towards the town of Wanaka
Lake Wanaka at sunset
Lake Wanaka at sunset

Dinner was a relaxed affair and we tried to play cards again. The problem with four girls is that we tend to get off topic very quickly and focusing on one thing at a time is near impossible.

It was going to be a quiet night in, but because we hadn’t spent that much money, S, K and myself got dressed up and headed into downtown Wanaka. It was a Monday night so we weren’t expecting a massive night, but cabin fever was getting the best of us (as well as the thought of a cocktail!) Our first stop was Gin & Raspberry, Wanaka’s newest establishment. The beautifully decorated bar was empty when we walked in, but the service was second to none. We ordered some cocktails and settled into the lounges by the crackling wood fire. By the time we drained our cocktails, more people had come and we decided to splurge on a bottle of wine. Moving onto a different bar, this time we took the locals advice and tried Woody’s – which was decidedly more busier than the Gin & Raspberry. We headed back to our campground around midnight, satisfied with our Monday night our in Wanaka and devoured some food in the fridge before passing out for the night.

The following morning we brushed off our hangover with a quick walk down to the lake. It was so darn cold, we decided that a walk to the coffee shop would be a great way to finish our daily exercise session :p

Mornings in Wanaka
Mornings in Wanaka
The tourists being tourists, again..
The tourists being tourists, again..

Stopping in at Relishes to warm up with a coffee, we were so tempted by their breakfast menu that we decided to eat out for brekkie. We went back to pack up Mimi and get dressed for the day before moving out and finding the best spot to break our fast. Urban Grind got our vote after we asked a few locals and I was not disappointed at all. The coffee was delish and the food superb. Plus, free wifi – you can’t complain with that!

Another quick shop and then we jumped back in the car for our next adventure. Today we’re headed for Lake Tekapo via Mount Cook. Stay tuned for whats to come!

J. x