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Big Update!

2009 March 11
by rob

Since my computer broke before the end of January I’ve not really been able to put a good effort into my blog. I do want to let everyone know that I’m doing okay, other then the occasional bouts of loneliness, apathy, or the random scars and scratches I always seem to acquire on my tramps and rambles.

As my time here in New Zealand wraps up, though, I thought I’d make the effort to put in a wee post here to update you on what I’ve been doing.

I believe Ieft off just before Christmas in Australia, so let’s begin there. I’ll try to keep it brief, but knowing me, I’ll be rambling uncontrollably within two paragraphs…

December 23-28: Maroochydore, Queensland, AU: My goal was to go surfing and have a barbecue on Christmas. Mission accomplished! The backpackers that Meps and I stayed at here in Maroochydore was small and fun, especially since there were actually Aussies staying there, too. A good mix of fun people!

December 29-January 3: Sydney, New South Wales, AU: After a harrowing drive to the airport in Brisbane where we nearly (intentionally) ran out of petrol we flew down to Australia’s biggest city. We met up with lots of people here from past episodes of my travels and got to see the spectacular fireworks shows at New Years. It was kind of a bummer, though, that my phone got stolen and I caught some stipud fever (assuming it was leprosy).

January 4: Our last day in Australia! Today Meps and I hopped the Tasman over to Auckland, New Zealand.

January 5-6: Whangerei, NZ: Meps got to go snorkeling and scuba diving at the Poor Knights Islands, which is supposed to be brilliant, but I wouldn’t really know since I was still suffering from my stupid fever and went to the doctor instead.

January 7-10: Taupo, NZ: Nestled beside the largest lake in New Zealand high on the volcanic plateaus of the North Island, we did lots of stuff in Taupo. Started with a little mountain biking, then did the mighty Tongariro Crossing (19 km walk around volcanoes), and finished off with a 43 m bungy jump over (and into) the Waikato River. My fever had finally gone, yay!

January 11-14: Rotorua, NZ: Prolly the most touristy place on the North Island, and we acted like total tourists here! The area is a hotspot for geothermal activity and Maori culture and we saw lots of both, along with some kiwis at an animal sanctuary.

January 15-16: Auckland, NZ: Back to New Zealand’s biggest city. Meps and I went to Kelly Tarlton’s aquarium to see penguins and other sea creatures before Meps flew back to Canada (*sniff sniff* :( ). I also got to see Edouard and Barry (from the legendary bus tour in Western Australia and again in Sydney). Auckland is kinda boring so I didn’t spend much time there.

January 17-18: Waitomo and Hamilton, NZ: Did a wicked awesome abseiling and caving trip in Waitomo. Saw constellations of glowworms in the cave.

January 19-21: Palmerston North: I visited Kerstin Meinecke, whom I had met in Tonga last August. Not much happened here, just got lots of stuff done, chilled out, socialised, and mailed my computer home after it broke :(

January 22-24: Wellington, NZ: I spent three days in New Zealand’s capital, at the southern tip of the North Island. I did some minor sightseeing here (Cable car, Royal Botanic Gardens, government buildings, the Weta Studios (the studios that produced The Lord of the Rings movies)). Met up with Stefan (whom I had met in Fiji) for drinks, and met Blaise and Carly (friends of Justine Saccomanno) whom were living here now; and hosted a vicious game of Settlers of Catan at their place.

January 25-26: So I had breezed through some of the major sights on the North Island (but missed a bunch, too) in only three weeks, but I wanted to reserve more time for the South Island, which I assumed would be more interesting (assumption was correct). I took a ferry across the Cook Straight to Picton. Some triangle-masked Canadians that I met on the ferry gave me a ride the rest of the way to Nelson.

January 27-30: My goal for the South Island was to go on lots of cross-country overnight hikes (called “tramps” by the Kiwis). My first one was the five-day Abel Tasman Coastal Track. I mixed it up a bit by sea kayaking the first days portion (11 km) and walking the last four days (45 km). I had to carry all my stuff with me in my pack, but didn’t need a tent since I got to sleep in huts instead (not quite as luxurious as it sounds, believe me). I got to see a penguins, some seals, a bunch of birds and WAY TOO MANY tourists. Bah. The scenery was fabulous, though: rocky coastlines, beaches, islands, forests, turquoise sea, and tidal estuaries.

January 31-February 1: Finished up the track and returned to Nelson where I ate a glorious huge meal and went dancing to 3 AM to celebrate one year since the start of my big trip. Also decided to spend NZ$700 (CA$450) on hiking boots. Tramping was fun, and I needed proper footwear!

February 2-3: Hokitika, NZ: Bussed past Ernest Rutherford’s birthplace to this small town on the West Coast. Didn’t do much here, to be honest.

February 4-5: Fox Glacier, NZ: Also on the West Coast, this busy tourist hub surrounded by mountains features one of the very few advancing glaciers in the world. Broke in the new boots with an extended glacier walk. Actually ran into three nurses from London, Ontario; one of them was from Woodstock! A rowdy night of drinking
followed, along with a few Americans, a Japanese girl, and a very rowdy Chilean girl.

February 6: Got a ride with the Americans (Kevin, Jen, and Kristin) south all the way to Queenstown.

February 7-9: Next tramp! This time it was the slightly more challenging Routeburn Track (3 days, 32 km). This trek was in the mountains, and included a long portion over an alpine saddle above the tree line and an emerald treasure of a forest where every surface, except the track itself, was covered in a verdant and luxurious layer of ferns and mosses. One day the sky was mostly yellow because of the big bushfires in Australia. Most of the glorious views were obscured by clouds, fog, and rain, which I did not enjoy.

February 10-11: Queenstown, NZ: Chilled out for a couple days in this tourist hub. I generally dislike places that are extremely touristy, but I actually enjoyed Queenstown quite a lot. I stayed at an excellent backpackers hostel, The Last Resort. This wee and cozy hostel is probably my favourite in all New Zealand. The presence of a fantastic burger place, Fergburger, helped a lot, too. My most noteworthy activity in Queenstown was some bone-jarring mountain bike rides down Skipper’s Canyon. Edouard was here so we had some drinks.

February 12-13: Wanaka, NZ: Wanaka is sorta like Queenstown, but smaller and quieter. I went on a fantastic canyoning trip there (lots of waterfalls, abseiling, jumps, and pools of ice cold water) and watched “The Band’s Visit” at the excellent Cinema Paradiso.

February 14: Lake Tekapo: A long bus ride and a night in the tiny village at picturesque Lake Tekapo.

February 15-17: Mt Cook/Aoraki National Park: Spent one night in the backpackers hostel in the village, then hiked up Mt Ollivier to spend the next night in the remote Mueller Hut (also called “the fridge on the ridge”). This hike was probably the most difficult of the ones I’ve done in NZ. The path was steep — a real knee-bender and I could still feel it in my thighs for a few days after. The views at sunrise from that hut hugh above the skyline were unforgettable, though. Easily one of the best highlights in my whole one year of travel.

February 18: Christchurch, NZ: I got some amazing birthday cards in the mail here. Thanks to everyone who contributed. I was so stunned that tears began to flow and I nearly walked into traffic. I went for birthday drinks that night with Stefan and Inna (from the legendary Whitesnake bus in WA and later Sydney).

February 19: Greymouth, NZ: Inna and I took the scenic Transalpine train across the Southern Alps over to Greymouth, back on the West Coast. It was my birthday (happy 31st!) so the afternoon was spent on a patio drinking beer and eating chocolate with Inna. Went out that night to see a local band sing songs about macroeconomics and watching TV.

February 20-21: Met up with Joe and Ron Clancy (who were in NZ only for a few days). We went to several hot springs then ended up in Christchurch again.

February 22-24: Queenstown, NZ: Back to a great chill-out town to chill out for a few days. Most people cone here to bungy jump or whitewater raft or other excessively expensive things like that. I was having none of that, though. Inna was here and we hung out lots.

February 25-26: Te Anau, NZ: I decided to shun the overly-touristy Milford Sound in favour of the less visited, but still excellent, Doubtful Sound in Fiordland National Park. Wow… Just wait until you see pictures

February 27-March 2: I did my last big tramp here: the Kepler Track (4 days, 62 km). There was a marvelous day above the treeline on peaks and ridges. Although the scenery was really great and the weather was generally good, this trek took a lot out of me. By the end, travel fatigue and apathy were hitting me hard. I wanted to go home…

March 3-6: Went to little Stewart Island, off the south coast. This island is the southernmost place I’ve ever been. In fact, the only inhabited places in the wotld that are farther south are the Falkland Islands, Patagonia, and Antarctica. I originally planned to do another 3-day tramp here, the Rakiura Track, but I wasn’t up for it, so I ended up doing only a day hike and a bit of sea kayaking instead. I spent a lot of time at my tiny backpackers and a café instead.

March 7-8: Balclutha, NZ: Met up with a friend from high school, Ben Crawford, who was now teaching in this quiet southern town. We went driving around the scenic Catlins and saw some penguins and sea lions.

March 9-11: Dunedin, NZ: Dunedin is a pretty nice town (about 100 000 people), but the weather was crap: cold, windy, and rainy. It definitely felt like summer was over here in New Zealand. I went on the great Speight’s brewery tour and finally did a lot of souvenir shopping. I managed to lighten my load significatly by mailing home 10 kg worth of clothes and souvenirs. My bag is so light now!! On the 11th, I took a six hour bus ride to Christchurch, my last destination in New Zealand.

March 11 (evening), 12: Christchurch, NZ: I started off by going back to Dux de Lux pub for Stefan’s birthday party. He had starting working in Christchurch doing some coding and had some coworkers, former travel acquantances (like me!), and squash partners for drinks. It was a lot of fun, since I didn’t have to talk about the boring standard tourist stuff. The 12th (today!) was a laundry, cafe, shopping (had to buy a new towel since I left mine behind in Dunedin, oops).

And now, here I am, at an internet cafe in Christchurch. I need to catch a bus at 6:30 AM tomorrow morning (bleck) to the airport for my flight to the Cook Islands (yay!). It’s my 30th country, and I’m very excited to be going to a place that’s actually hot and sunny. Since summer is over in New Zealand, I feel it’s definitely the right time to be flying outta here.

Rob Szumlakowski
Christchurch, NZ

2 Responses leave one →
  1. Meps permalink
    March 16, 2009

    I know how to combat your occasional bouts of loneliness and apathy for your next trip (can’t do much for random scars. . .) — take me with ya! I can be fun! Honest! Didn’t my mongoose impression make your laugh?!

  2. Rob Szumlakowski permalink
    March 22, 2009

    How are your random scars doing anyways? And yes, your mongoose impression was pretty awesome!

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