Exploring Old Kathmandu

Back into the craziness Kathmandu and it wasnt long before I was wishing I was still high in the mountains where it was a bit cooler and quieter! Kathmandu is a dusty, hot jumble of people, motorbikes and stray dogs. After being in a car-free environment for almost two weeks, it was a bit of shock to be launched back into the busy streets of Thamel. However the access to a hot shower, comfy beds and decent food was happily welcomed! 

Enjoying a rooftop sunset at the Traditional Comfort

There was a few people in the group that were sticking around Kathmandu for a couple of days after we returned so we took delight in celebrating with very Western food and lots of it! After a relaxing day in our swanky final hotel of the trip (Traditional Comfort, if you ever want to lash out in Kathmandu, this place it where to go!) a group of us headed into Old Kathmandu for a wander. Opting against getting a guide, we made our own way into the old city centre, venturing towards Durbar Square, albeit very slowly!

Old Kathmandu and Durbar Square is a busy quarter of the city, were family dwellings of all shapes and sizes (and homemade-extension types) knock out the sunlight, shop fronts spill out onto the street and street stalls selling everything from vegetables to motorbike parts clog the walkway. The old city is constructed on a fundamental building called bahal – which is a set of buildings joined at right angles around a central courtyard. This building style honeycombs the entire city, joining almost everyone together. Many of these bahal’s were originally Buddhist monasteries but have now been reverted for residential use. The streets were lined with a tangle of black power lines, some hanging so low you had to duck. Being an electrician in this country would be a nightmare! The effect of the 2015 earthquake was still very present here, buildings were crumbling at the edges and constructions sites were everywhere – most looked like they’d been classed as ‘too hard’ and just left to sit and disintegrate. 

Chaotic streets of Old Kathmandu

These guys actually sleep in their rickshaws – always waiting for the next ride
Remnants of the 2015 earthquake are sadly still present everywhere

We spent a good majority of our time wandering up  and down dusty streets, getting lost amongst the bahal and dodging rickshaws. As the only Westerners around, we were in the spotlight and locals stared at us from windows, shop fronts and even on passing motorbikes. The streets were tiny lanes, jam packed full of different shops and people. It was an ‘every man for themself’ situation. With locals pushing and shoving to get on their way, we had to do the same. Being tall and blonde had it perks, as locals stopped to stare they created an opening for me to duck through and be on my way. 

Wandering for a couple of hours we finally came across Durbar Square. Hunger took over our need to explore and we found a rooftop cafe in the corner of Durbar Square to munch down some veggie burgers before exploring on. To enter Durbar Square and the surrounds it cost 1000 rupees (about AUD$13) which was quite expensive to see the centre of the old town. This money was supposed to go to earthquake reconstruction funds, however the lack of reconstructing going on, it was hard to believe that was the case. Nonetheless, we paid for our ticket and headed in.

Durbar Square
Anyone need a dentist?


Without a guide we wandered around trying to give ourselves a self guided tour from a Lonely Planet book. As it was the middle of the day, it was hot and not ideal to be playing tourist in so we headed to the shady street (in more ways than one) known more commonly as Freak Street. This street was infamous in the 60’s and 70’s where it was a highlight on the backpacker hippie trail. The draw card to this particular street was the government-run hashish shops. Hippies from all over the world flocked to Freak Street for easily accessible cannabis and hash and it became a hippie nirvana until the early 1970s when the government decided to clean up of the area. Nowadays the hash and cannabis has been replaced by trekking and cultural tourism and hippies have been replaced by hikers and more spiritually inclined. As we wandered down the street, there was little renmant of this so-called hippie nirvana, bar one or two cannabis stores. It was fascinating to think that this part of the city, who now goes to bed early, was once a major pot-fest. We passed one or two dreadlocked, wrinkly old Westerners sat on shop front stairs covered in tie-dye and a glazed look out their eyes but mostly it was Chinese tourists taking photos. I’m sure those guys had a few wild stories to tell – if they could remember it!

Freak Street – a far cry from its marijuana-smoking hey day

With the heat getting to us a little, we found refuge in a rooftop cafe and ordered iced coffees to perk us up. Below us, the bustle of the old city never stopped. Between locals trying to sell their goods, to bus loads of tourists being suckered into buying them – it was in a constant state of motion. You could sit and watch all day and never get bored. We were waiting until 4:15pm when nearby a living goddess would be showing her face from her balcony. A tourist ploy, perhaps? But we were going to wait and find out.

In Nepal there is a tradition of worshipping pre-pubescent girls as manifestations of the divine female energy in Hindu religious traditions. The Kumari – as she is called – is a young girl selected from the Newari community in Nepal. While we were first told there is only one living goddess Kumari, it turns out there’s actually a few around the country. However we were seeing the Royal Kumari who apparently was the most important. As the Kumari has to be a pre-pubescent girl, she changes quite regularly due to the girls growing up. There has been 14 Royal Kumaris since the 1920’s, each who have passed the vigourious selection process.

Potential Kumaris must be in excellent health, have never shed blood, been affiliating with any diseases, possess certain physical qualities such as a body like a bayan tree and eyelashes like a cow. She must have very black hair and eyes, dainty hands and feet and show signs of fearlessness and serenity. If she passes all that, then the candidate must go through tests, such as showing no fear in a candlelit room full of heads of animals sacrificed in her honour and spend a night alone with them. If the candidate gets through this far, she then has to correctly pick out the belongings of the previous Kumari. If she is unsuccessful, the whole process is done again until the new Kumari is found. Can I just add that the candidates could be as young as 3 years old..

It all seemed a little airy fairy for me but I went along for the spectacle simply to say I’ve witnessed a living goddess. We were in good company too as the small courtyard from which the Kumari’s balcony is situated was jam-packed full of people. The power of the Kumari is perceived to be so strong that even just a glimpse of her is believed to bring good fortune. I was hoping they were right because I could really do with a good fortune right about now, but I have a feeling she wouldn’t be throwing money out her balcony window. We weren’t allowed to take photos of the Kumari so I won’t even have proof of the time I saw a living goddess.

The top middle window is where the Kumari made her brief appearance

4pm rolled around and myself and about one hundred other people squashed into the tiny courtyard waiting for the divine Kumari to appear. Being on time clearly wasnt a prerequisite for being a living goddess as it was another few minutes before she showed her face. Finally a young girl appeared in a red and gold dress, her face pale with make-up and eyes heavily painted with eyeliner. She stared at us for moments, directly staring us three Aussie girls mainly – a trio of Caucasians in a room full of Chinese – before disappearing back into the darkness. It was a fleeting visit and the only thing I could think of was how sad she looked, staring out at a room full of tourists. I didn’t blame her though, she would do the same thing everyday. Same room, different people. Even a living goddess can’t escape the mundane parts of a job.

We left the Old Town, feeling not quite like we’d been blessed with good fortune but time will tell. We headed back into Thamel where we split up to refresh ourselves before meeting again for dinner at possibly the best, albeit most touristy restaurant in town, OR2K.

OR2K is an Israeli-run vegetarian restaurant, which serves up delicious food and more importantly, vegetables! I have been craving fresh veggies since the trek were white potato and cabbage were the best I could come up with. We gorged ourselves on falafel platters and hummus, before topping it all off with a hot chocolate soufflé pudding which actually may have been the best thing I’ve ever eaten! Oh and espresso martinis! Yes they had delicious espresso martinis for less than AUD$4! I was in love with this place! Definitely coming back here. I hadn’t eaten that much food in one sitting since Christmas and felt like I had to be rolled out of the joint, we definitely outdid ourselves on the food front but it was absolutely delicious.

Hummus, falafel, naan bread. HEAVEN!

Tomorrow C, B and myself are heading out of the city to explore Kathmandu valley. But now its time for a hummus-induced food coma to commence!

J. X

EBC Trek – Namche to Tengboche

After a pleasant “rest day” yesterday it was time to get back into hiking higher towards Base Camp. This morning brought another magical view from my windows. The mornings were so crisp and clear that all the mountain peaks surrounding Namche were in full view. Whilst my sleep routine was so out of whack, I was thankful that I was waking up early to witness this amazig sight. Usually by mid-morning the clouds settle in and cover up most of the mountains. 

Today’s destination was Tengboche, a small village of the top of a huge mountain at 3875m. In the village there is a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery which is the major money maker for the small village. In 1989 this monastery was destroyed by a fire so thanks to financial aid for volunteers all around the world, the monastery was rebuilt and a ‘Master Plan’ was made. this included building a water supply system for clean drinking water, an Eco-tourism centre to promote more sustainstable tourism, improving school and education systems for the local people, establishment of sacred land for high altitude medicinal herb plantation, a hydropower station for assured electricity in the village and better facilities for the porters. Without the help of this financial aid, the Tengboche Monastary might not be here today.

Our hike began the same way as yesterday and feeling slightly more energetic from the influx of red blood cells I bounced up the steep track. The path flattened out after half hour and it was a beautiful stroll along the edge of the mountain. We were walking towards the same view as yesterday but as usual Everest was hidden by cloud and Lhotse was claiming all the glory! . I was starting to think that Mt Everest was just a very clever marketing ploy by Nepal Tourism – or its the world’s best mountain at hiding! It was still surreal to think that I was walking along the Everest Base Camp trail in Nepal. Just a week or two ago I was working in a office, now I was here! 


The path was built into the side of the mountain and with no guard rail to keep us in, one wrong step could mean a very long fall into the valley below us. Our group had formed its own little mini-groups, measured by walking pace. Three guys zooming ahead at the front, our group of six with us three Aussie girls, two Scots and one of the Germans. Behind us were the trailing Germans and the Americans taking it nice and easy. We mostly walked in silence enjoying the scenery, leaving conversation for break times where we spent most of the time discussing the scenery! One may say we were a little one-track minded! 

We walked along the path for an hour or so before we started to descend into the valley. It appeared we had to walk down to the river to cross it before making our way back up again to reach Tengboche. Undoing all our hard work from yesterday we dodged donkeys and yaks as we stepped our way down to the river. I could feel the pressure in my knees already from walking down steps. If they could last the whole trip, it would be a miracle! 

Stopping for a lunch break (at 10:30am) we sat in the sun at a little cafe by the flowing river and waited for the last of the group to arrive. This little break turned into a massive two hour one and by the time our guide Krishna told us to ‘Jam jam’ (Let’s go) we were all drowsy from the sun and not in the mood to hike up to Tengboche. Nonetheless we put our backpacks back on and walked across the suspension bridge that would start our hike uphill.


This hike uphill wasn’t fun to say the least. The constant steps, thinning air and moody weather made the hike uncomfortable and it was slightly frustrating that we were higher only just a bit higher than we were yesterday. If only we didnt have to go down to the river to cross it! As the heavy clouds set in for the afternoon, there wasn’t even the stunning mountainous views to look out to. Pink wildflowers dotted the path but apart from that we were still in quite a forestry, green area. The temperature dropped dramatically with the clouds and it was getting chilly, especially in our sweaty clothes. Thankfully there was the six of us hiking together so we all were in the same boat, happy to stop regularly and dream about a warm cup of tea and clean socks!

The porters carrying loads of up to 140kg were always a remember not to complain about your own backpack

Finally we reached Tengboche and as per usual, the last two hours were erased from my memory. It seems I was suffered from short term memory loss when it came it hiking. Once I reached the destination and become enthralled in it, the pain of hiking uphill disappeared. I wont lie, its quite a good problem to have!         

We walked into our lodge, thankful to be out of the cold and starving hungry. Thankfully the lodge knew we were coming and were quick to get food and drink out to us. After lunch we had a little rest before visiting the monastery to watch the monks perform one of their sermons. Our guide Dawa warned us it would be long and loud and to feel free to leave at any time but I was intrigued to see what goes on behind monastery walls, it seems like such a sacred and secretive place.

The monastery had a strong Chinese influence to its architecture. We walked through the huge ornate gate, elaborately designed with gold painted ornaments and walked up the stairs to the entrance. We had to wait for the monks to enter before we could go in and the whole thing felt a like cult like. As we walked in I was gobsmacked by the interior of the room. For a building that sort of looks like a large dormitory on the outside, it was so beautifully decorated on the inside. The Chinese influence (I guess its Chinese? Could be Buddhist?) flowed through the room, with more ornate carvings on the walls and roof.  Incense burned and candles were lit, creating a very zen-like atmosphere. There were four rows of long raised wooden boxes that the monks sat cross-legged on top of. Long, gold instruments sat at the two front corners of the room and several monks sat behind them, ready to play when told to. At the front of the room sat a statue of very large gold Buddha, the siza of the whole wall! I felt sorry for the poor sucker who had to lug this massive statue up the mountain, it was bigger than an elephant! His huge presence loomed over us and we sat on the hard wooden floor, pretending to not be there. I wish I could have taken a photo but were were forbidden to bring cameras inside.

Dogs of Tengboche
A monk waiting to begin his afternoon ritual

We sat waiting to see how the sermon unfolded but didn’t have to wait long as the monks opened their scripts and began to chant. There was a lead monk who ran the chants and the others followed. His voice was raspy and at times he seemed to just be making noise, but the others followed suit so I can only imagine it was part of the mantra. They added the musical instruments to their chants and the large horns scared the crap out of us sitting close to them, as the monks blew them without warning. I stifled a laugh, our dirty, tired, smelly group couldn’t be more out of place in this sacred building.

The chanting went on and on. They stopped at times and then began up with a different chant or a new blow of the horn. It was mesmerising to watch in a way that you could almost fall into a trance,  but after an hour the hard wooden floor was making my backside numb and some of us in the group were giving each other side eyes to see who would get up and leave first. 

Thankfully the Germans left first, making way for the rest of us to slowly file out and head back to the lodge. It was almost dark by this time and dinner wasn’t far away. They had lit the fire in the dining room of the lodge so it was toasty warm for our return. After dinner we had another UNO competition go down. I have to say, not having access to technology has been pretty great. I feel like we’re closer as a group because we haven’t spent all our times in front of our mobiles. It was another early bedtime as we were knackered from today’s efforts and knew tomorrow was going to be another big one.

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 9 – A wild night at the beach and pancakes at Pancake Rocks.

We made it to Greymouth with just enough daylight to suss out our free camping spot for the night. Using the Jucy app yet again (this thing was a lifesaver!) we found a secluded spot by the beach just outside the windy city. Greymouth itself wasn’t much to look at – it seemed like a bit of a middle class mining town. There wasn’t a lot of colour around and the dreary weather kept people indoors, making it seem almost ghost town-like. Deciding that our little camp spot would do the trick for the night, we jumped back in Mimi for a quick squiz at the Monteiths Brewery in the middle of town.

The Monteiths Brewery was a far cry from the dullness of its surroundings outside. Like a warm shining beacon of hope, we backtracked our initial thoughts of Greymouth a little and was impressed by the industrial-esque interior that made up the brewery. Monteith’s has been brewing for over 150 years and is the leader in New Zealand’s craft beer market. We were too late (no surprise) for a tour of the brewery but settled with a selection of brews to sample, while we warmed up by the roaring fire. I’m not a huge beer drinker but I sure do love a good cider, and if there is one cider I always fall back on, its a Monteith’s. Back in Aus, we get the usual apple and pear ciders but in the brewery I found a new love – ginger and pear cider. Mmm it was so darn good I could have bathed in it!

S enjoying the tasting tray at the Monteiths Brewery in Greymouth
S enjoying the tasting tray at the Monteiths Brewery in Greymouth

Heading back to our little camping spot, the wind was blowing an absolute gale and we were a little unsure of parking up here for the night. Deciding to park further from the beach than another lone camper, we reasoned that if the tide turned nasty on us, at least they’d get hit first. We settled in for a little dinner before dozing off into a beer-filled sleep.

The following morning I awoke early to Mimi swaying more than a crowd at a Bob Marley concert. It was still pitch black outside, making the swaying sound of the ocean even worse. Waking K up for consultation, we decided to move the van to a more covered area just further down from the beach where the swaying wasn’t so sea-sickness inducing. Fighting to get back to sleep for another half hour, I gave up and hustled K to go for a walk with me on the beach.

Our camp for the night - the windy and wild beaches of Greymouth
Our camp for the night – the windy and wild beaches of Grey mouth

Now call me a beach snob because I come from a country thats home to some of the world’s best beaches, but Greymouth beaches are nothing to get excited over. The sand is dark and gritty, the water dirty and turbulent and the scattered driftwood makes walking in a straight line near impossible. Yet the darkness makes the beaches hauntingly beautiful. Like where you’d imagine a Lana Del Ray video to be made. It was depressing yet fascinating the way the knarly driftwood held a lifetime of secrets. The rain chased us back to the van and we decided to get moving straight away, while B and S were still dozing in the back.

K, the lone figure on the beach at Greymouth
K, the lone figure on the beach at Greymouth

Since we crossed the country yesterday, it seemed only logical to cross back over to the other side today. Our plans were sort of haphazard and all we knew was we wanted to be in the Marlborough region and Kaikoura for the rest of our trip. Driving along the wild and windy west coast was exciting and slightly terrifying. I’m not sure if its always so grey and dark on this side of the country but it was sure living up to its name.

We reached Punakaiki just in time for breakfast after zigzagging along the west coast for an hour or so. Punakaiki is home to the famous Pancake Rocks and Blowholes and we were hopeful we’d find some pancakes for breakfast and not be disappointed like we were in Kumara. Thankfully, the pancake Gods shone down on us this morning and we were in for a treat. Pancakes with bacon, berry compote and maple syrup, washed down with a coffee was pretty much exactly what the doctor ordered.

Pancakes at Pancake Rocks - perfect start to the morning!
Pancakes at Pancake Rocks – perfect start to the morning!

We finished off brekkie and went for a walk to the Pancake Rocks in a pathetic attempt to work off the calories we’d just consumed. The Pancake Rocks are heavily eroded limestone which over time has been formed by immense pressure by the rough sea on alternating hard and soft layers of marine creatures and plant sediments. These layers look like stacks of pancakes, hence the name ‘Pancake Rocks’. The walkway takes you past the rocks and blowholes and gives you up close views and perfect photo opportunities – which of course we took full advantage of!

The Jurassic Park-eqsue rock formations left you wondering if T-Rex was going to jump out and eat you!
The Jurassic Park-eqsue rock formations left you wondering if T-Rex was going to jump out and eat you!

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The deja vu I’d been feeling driving through Arthurs Pass was confirmed as I remembered looking at the strange rock formations with my parents about 10 years earlier. It was high tide the last time I was here and I remember Dad and I watching the huge waves crash into the rocks and water spouting out of the blowholes. Unfortunately we didn’t see the same performance this time round, but the rocks were still a fascinating sight to see!

Pancake layers created by years of pressure from the ocean.
Limestone pancake layers created by years of pressure from the ocean.

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K admiring the view at Punakaiki
K admiring the view at Punakaiki
Selfies for dayzzzz.
Selfies for dayzzzz.

As per usual, the clock was running against us and our mission to squeeze as much of New Zealand into one trip as possible was starting to look impossible. Never fear however, we didn’t let this beat us and we jumped back in Mimi for another windy drive towards Nelson.

There were a few stops along the way, but this day turned out to be massive, so I will continue our adventures in the next post!

 

Stay tuuuuuuned 🙂

J.x

 

Day 8 – Rustic style camping and eating our bodyweight in cheese and chocolate.

After our slightly creepy visit to Tekapo, we were more than pleased to be driving away. Passing through teeny tiny, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it towns, we searched for a place to camp for the night. The Musterer’s High Country Accommodation caught our eye and we pulled in hoping they had a free space.

Musterer’s High Country Accommodation are a boutique camping development with a variety of accommodation. Theres self-contained luxury cabins, powered camping sites and also a 1930’s carriage for two people (perfect for a romantic getaway!) Plus, they had adorable donkeys and goats on the property, what more could you want? As it turns out, the perks of travelling off-peak season came through again and we had the entire place to ourselves. Our hosts, Paul and Eunice were way more than accommodating by letting us not only have a powered site, but free reign of the delightful wool shed and hot showers. Talk about score! We were tempted by the hot tubs but unfortunately arrived a bit too late for them to be turned on. We cosied up in the fully decked out wool shed and made dinner and watched TV. This little bit of chill out time was just what we needed at the mid point of our trip.

The Musterers High Country Accommodation in Fairlie - gorgeous and rustic!
The Musterers High Country Accommodation in Fairlie – gorgeous and rustic!
Your own private hot tub at Musterers, don't mind if i do!
Your own private hot tub at Musterers, don’t mind if i do!

The following morning, we woke to frosty surroundings, caused by the snowy mountains that enveloped us. Since the start of the trip, we had decided today would be our ‘big’ drive day. We were crossing the island and going from east to west across Arthurs Pass to Greymouth. It would take us about five or so hours, which was huge compared to the menial distances we had been travelling in the previous days.

Now fairly behind schedule, we hightailed it out of there with a mission to stay in the van for more than an hour. This, of course, was a failure and we made a pit stop at the Staveley Store for a quick coffee and a sample of a cheese roll – because we hadn’t eaten enough in Geraldine – before setting off properly towards Arthurs Pass. P.s – the coffee in Staveley is fantastic!
It was a long, windy drive to reach Arthurs Pass National Park, but the view was fantastic the entire way. I kept feeling a sense of deja vu as we drove along and it wasn’t until we reached the small township of Arthur’s Pass that I realised I had been here before – back when I travelled through New Zealand with my parents at the age of 13. Obviously I wasn’t so enthralled by travelling back then as I am now! :p
Somewhere between Fairlie and Arthurs Pass - just glorious
Somewhere between Fairlie and Arthurs Pass – just glorious
 The landscape changed dramatically as we drove, from looming arid mountains to dense forestry – we couldnt tire from the view. The road was windy and narrow, though it didnt seem to faze the large trucks whizzing by us as we puttered along in Mimi.
In was nearing dark by the time we reached the turnoff to Greymouth. We’d buzzed past Kumura and had our hopes of hot kumara chips shattered as the scattering of houses that made up the town of Kumara didnt look as inviting as we’d envisioned.
The weather looked shocking as we entered Greymouth and we made a decision to only perch up here for the night before heading on towards Punakaiki and the Pancake Rocks, but more on that later…
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