Sunday, 8 September 2013

Last six weeks in NZ - Ruapehu and National Park

My last six weeks in New Zealand were spent solely in National Park. National Park is the kind of town one could describe as a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ kind of place. There’s a petrol station, which serves as a supermarket, a handful of lodges and a couple of pub / restaurants. However, it serves as the base for snowsport lovers, and those attempting the famous ‘Tongariro Crossing’ hike. It also has wonderful walks with spectuacular views of Ruapehu, one of the worlds most active and New Zealands largest volcano. There's also plenty of spots nearby for caving and climbing. The permanent population of ‘Natty P’ is less than 300, which increases significantly during the winter season, and sometimes things get a little ‘cray’!  

Arriving back was strange and wonderful. Aisling, her friends Dave, Roseanne, Sam and I spent the night in the neighbouring and somewhat more ‘sophisticated’ town of Ohakune in the cabin they were renting for the weekend. They dropped me to National Park the next day after a fun night out. We went for a lunchtime beer at Schnapps. It was a cold, crisp day on June 27th. But the sun was shining and the mountains looked pristine as we sat admiring the view. It was quite emotional for Ais and I. This is where we began the journey of a life-time together one year ago. So much had changed, yet so much was still the same.

They then dropped me to my lodge, the National Park Hotel (or ‘The Hoe’ as it’s more affectionately known.) I had called the new owners days before telling them I used to be a regular customer in ‘the Hoe’, and that I was coming back to be their new ‘woofer’. I was working for my accommodation there – I had already decided and I hadn’t even spoken to them yet. I simply could not afford to pay rent at this point in time. Luckily Wayne wasn’t hard to convince and I lived here almost rent free for 6 weeks, doing odd jobs here and there. I also had my job in Eivins and through chatting to people managed to get a few hours in another lodge in the mornings. Sorted!

The first week back was lovely. Meeting again with old friends, making new ones and feeling that special, spiritual connection with the mountain set things off to a great start. After working for a while, I bought my ‘Early Bird’ season pass (discounted through working in hospitality) and it was time to hit the slopes. It felt so good to be back snowboarding on the mountain that I knew so well and where I had so many amazing days last year. Overall, the snow wasn’t great for my time there but I didn’t let that stop my enjoyment, hitching up to the ‘Top of the Bruce’ every chance I got. I spent some time riding with ‘Dutchie’, an experienced instructor working at Ruapehu. Observing my riding, he said I was at level four/five out of six. He gave me such simple tips that helped me improve within minutes. One thing on my bucket list is to get my instructors course and be able to teach for a season. Working as a primary school teacher in Ireland would allow me to spend summers off instructing in new Zealand. We’ll see! I really enjoyed working in Eivins this time around. The owners treated my like their daughter and I developed a great relationship with all of our local customers. The ‘craic was mighty’, as we say in Ireland! I met some really fun and quirky characters this season, a lot of who lived at the Hoe. We had great fun there, and although the lodge was, well, a royal kip – I still enjoyed every minute of it. Just like last year, National Park served us well and there was always a party to go to or something on! Whether it be a house-party, a bonfire party or quiz-night in Schnapps – we were never stuck!

I was so happy to spend my last six weeks in this beautiful part of the world. As I said before, there is something spiritual about Ruapehu and National Park, and many people who live here or have spent time here will say so. Having had the most perfect year, it felt only right to finish it off in a place I felt lucky enough to call my home away from home. Through out my travels, there was always a worry in the very back of my head about coming home, about going back to my old life and longing to get away again. But as the weeks went by at Ruapehu, something came over me, a simple feeling of spiritual contentment. There was a quiet reassurance inside myself that everything was going to be okay, that life was only going to get better, and that while there may be hurdles ahead, there was nothing to worry about. All could be perfectly well, if I let it be. A feeling quite simple, yet profound. Being at Ruapehu definitely helped create this feeling. And after about fifteen months away in one of the most beautiful countries in the world, a lot of craziness, a lot of 'contemplation' and a lot of fun I was finally ready to come home. 

Well, for a while.  

Friday, 30 August 2013

Tekapo and Snowboarding before return to the North Island

So the time eventually came for me to move on again. My time in Queenstown was short yet wonderfully sweet - but money was getting extremely tight. Last year during winter, I worked in a restaurant in National Park called Eivins. It supplemented my hours working on Mount Ruapehu and luckily the owner was willing to give me my job back again this winter so time to get back up North to the wonderful little village that was my first home in New Zealand.
Lake Tekapo
But some fun first before I got back to work. On Monday June 24th, after a few sad goodbyes to good friends, I got Nakedbus (ticket bought for 10 dollars on Grabone. Could be redeemed against any journey. So worth it!) up to Christchurch to meet my old campervan mate, Nadine. As the bus pulled out of Queenstown the sun was rising, and I took in the sights of those beautiful mountains one last time. I tried to sleep but to no avail, and when I gave up and opened my eyes, I was amazed at how much snow there was on the mountains. It was incredible and made me so excited for snow season again. I was so delighted to hear we were stopping at Lake Tekapo for an hour. I really wanted to visit this region but circumstances didn’t allow me so having this stop off was perfect. As the bus arrived we were greeted by the most beautiful, blue, glistening lake surrounded by pure white hills of snow. The sun was shining and yet again I’m in awe at another incredible sight. I got off the bus, saw a mssive mound of snow on the side of the road and decide to try stand on top of it. I underestimated the lovely, fluffiness of the snow and ended up waist high in the stuff. It was great! The snow had only fallen the night before and must have been a metre deep. I had to trudge down to the lake through it all, not wanting to miss out on a half hour sitting in bliss by Lake Tekapo. And bliss it was.

Snowboarding at Mount Hutt
I arrived in Christchurch quite late. Nadine was arriving a few hours after me so it was my job to find a hostel where off street parking for campervans was allowed. After an hour or so of more trudging with my suitcase I found Kiwi Basecamp Hostel. For 15 each, we could both sleep in the campervan and use all of the facilities. There was also free fresh bread in the morning so breakfast was sorted. Sweet! After a glass of wine, a catch up with Nadine and some other guests – it was bedtime. Being so wrecked, I fell alseep pretty fast. But no – I definitely had not missed living out of a campervan. The reason I was meeting Nadine was to go snowboarding at Mount Hutt, a big resort an hour and a half from Christchurch close to the town of Methven. I was broke so originally told Nadine it wasn’t possible to meet her for a couple of days on the slopes, but as she was learning and buying a season pass and of course wanting my wonderful company, she most generally agreed to shout me the day and a half.  Nadine – you rock and I owe you big-time. Serious appreciation girl!

We were both up early the next day, all excited to get out to the snow. After a cold shower (if you book into this hostel make sure you ask them the night before if the hot water is working!), we had breakfast and hit the road. The journey there was lovely, and getting closer and closer to the mountains on such a lovely sunny day after a massive dump of snow was leaving me beyond excited. After lots of rigmaroll what with getting set up with wheel chains for the drive up the mountain, gear and passes – we got out onto the slopes soon after lunch for a half day. I was stoked to get back snowboarding and had a great time. The view of the Canterbury plains from the top of Mount Hutt is spectacular and as we drove home exhausted, we admired the sun setting.
We found a very, very basic campsite in Methven, (only stay if very necessary) showered, ate Nadines delicious home-made soup and went in search of some life in the town. We had a drink and a boogie and went back to the campsite for a few zzzz’s. It was EXTREMELY cold that night and I began to wonder as I drifted off to sleep how Nadine was living out of her van for the whole year. Respect! The next day was brilliant and Nadine was definitely showing an aptitude for snowboarding. I went off on my own while Nadine had lessons. Soon I met a girl who was at a similar level to me so we had some fun cruising around together. Overall - it was a fantastic few days. Snowboarding on a three metre deep base so early in the season was a serious treat. With great weather and great company - what's there to complain about? The next morning I got a shuttle to the airport early to catch my flight to Auckland. I booked a week in advance and paid 60 dollars to fly Jetstar, a highly recommended airline with excellent value. My first and best friend in New Zealand, Aisling and her friends picked me up at the airport and we began our road-trip back to Ruapehu, where the dream began just over a year previously.

On a budget in Queenstown?

If you have money to spare while traveling through Queenstown, it is an incredible place for anyone who knows how to have a good time. From outdoor adventure to funky bars and restaurants, it really has it all. Having said that, being a poor wanderer like myself in this city was not so bad. In fact, it was wonderful. I made the most of my time here despite being broke. If you're on a budget here's some recommendations;

Free Fun In Queenstown

Queenstown Gardens and Frisbee/Disc Golf - There is an 18 hole course in the Gardens which offers fantastic views over the lake. The gardens themselves are beautiful and it's worth going to visit the huge plaque in memorial of the brave explorer, Robert Falcon Scott, who died of starvation and hypothermia while exploring the Antarctic regions in 1912. 

Sit by the Lakefront - Grab a coffee, sit on the stone wall in front of the lake and marvel at the sight in front of you. No matter what the season, this view could never be anything but jaw-dropping. Grab some bread and feed the ducks, enjoy the buskers, admire the slackliners, watch the paragliders doing swirls in the sky. There's also some interesting landmarks like the one below. And of course If you enjoy people watching, there will no doubt be plenty of characters to feast your eyes on. 

Icehockey - In winter there is a local league. Go to the stadium at the back of the gardens to enjoy great team spirit and atmosphere. I was really taken aback at the skill of some of the players. Great watching!

Walk - There are endless walks in Queenstown. Each one as lovely as the next. Some of my favourites include Sunshine Bay, the Gondola walk (watch the zipliners as you do it), the walk to Frankton along the lake and Queenstown Hill. They each make for amazing photo opportunities and clean, fresh air in the lungs.

Visit Lord of the Rings Filming Locations - There are plenty of these scattered all around Queenstown. In the AA road atlas map you'll find ring symbols scattered everywhere directing you where to go. A lot easier on wheels than on foot! Great fun for all those LOTR fans!

Watch bunjee jumpers at Kawarau Bridge - I was lucky enough to work at a function at AJ Hackett Bunjee one day. Unfortunately being out of pocket meant I couldn't jump myself but I had great fun watching! This bridge was originally the only road into Queenstown and has been described as a 'model structure in both design and workmanship'. The area has a lot of interesting history. Worth a visit! 

Good Value Food, Bevs and Dancing

Searle Lane - Cheap drinks, Live games on their big screen TV, great dancing after 11.30pm, pool table, VERY good-looking staff. Need I say more? Become a member which is free and you'll get at least 5 free drinks a week. GRAND!

Cowboys - 10 dollar MASSIVE pints, free pizza and nibbles without request, huge cosy fire and a mechanical bull. I chose here as a day time, 'lets go for one' kind of bar. Beware of potential night-time activities that can occur here; namely drinking 15 cheap tequila shots and getting flung off the bull, as has happened to friends. I wont go into detail. 


Barnesy in Cowboys
1876 - 4 Dollar drinks. A favourite amongst us young folk without a parade of backpackers. Trendy vibe and relaxed atmosphere. 

Brazz - 10 dollar all day, full breakfast. So, so worth it! Delicious coffee too.

Cookietime - Delicious delicious delicious half-price cookies from 5-6pm. Their hot chocolate is also wonderful! 

 So there you have it my friends - how to have a great time in Queenstown on an extreme budget! Enjoy!