I flew back into LAX from Auckland on Thursday 22 December, arriving approximately 10 hours earlier than when I took off. LAX is quite the assault on the senses/worst airport ever/full of the rudest people known to mankind. Luckily my friend Liz was ready and waiting to whisk me off to the relative calm of Orange County.
It’s been great being back in Laguna Beach, particularly at Christmas time. People really make an effort to decorate their homes and it’s great walking around at night seeing the lights.
However, adjusting from the height of southern hemisphere summer daylight to the depths of northern hemisphere short days has been quite tricky! I went from the sun setting at 9.45pm to the sun setting at 4.30pm in the space of 24 hours. I immediately felt the need to hibernate.
A Laguna Beach Christmas Day was sort of like a British Christmas day, in that we opened presents in the morning, played Christmas songs and went for a walk. And ate too much. Main difference was it was nice and sunny and we walked on a lovely sandy beach. But pretty similar. Christmas in the US kind of ends on the 25th, which is a shame I think, as they do not have Boxing Day, everyone goes straight back to work. I tried to explain Boxing Day to an American friend and failed miserably. What is it??
Leaving the very southern tip of New Zealand behind me, I headed west towards Fjordland. This began a leg of my trip with many long days of driving. Getting anywhere in New Zealand takes a while. That’s mainly because there aren’t many straight roads and because there are usually quite a few mountains in the way! On average I think I must have driven four hours each day.
Fjordland sounds like a theme park, and in some ways it is, a natural one. Judging by the numbers of tourists there, it felt like one too at times. The area is very famous for Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound. I didn’t make it that far due to time restrictions, but I did explore some of the area. I came across a beautiful meadow area with thousands of wild flowers (see photo below). It reminded me of Tuolumne Meadows in California. I had the place to myself, which was great, as I cannot stand going to overly touristy places with thousand of busloads of Chinese tourists ruining the experience.
I also visited Manapouri and Te Anu, both of which are lovely small towns on two different lakes. I like to go off the beaten track if I can and experience places where New Zealanders live, and not just where the tourists go. New Zealand is much more popular than when I was last here in 2005 and I fear the change is eating away at what made the country great before.
Queenstown, Wanaka and Mount Aspiring
The next day I drove to Wanaka, via the popular mountain town of Queenstown. The two places couldn’t be more different. Queenstown has become a party place, bucketloads of teenagers all looking for their next McDonalds. It is still beautiful, but it’s not for me. I was glad I chose to stay in Wanaka, which everyone says is like Queenstown was twenty years ago.
Whilst there I drove into Aspiring National Park, which is such a great name! Again, I had the place to myself, with great views of huge snow-capped mountains. The town itself has a beautiful backdrop of mountains, see the photo below.
The West coast
Leaving Wanaka I drove across the Aspiring mountain ranges. I stopped at this amazing places called the Blue Pools. Glacial water is fed down into deep pools which are so clear you can see the bottom. Everywhere you go in the South Island you stumble across majestic waterfalls, mountains streams, rolling hills, it almost becomes commonplace!
I then hit the west coast and glacier country. There are two famous glaciers here, Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier. They were discovered in the mid-1800s and have been tourist attractions ever since.I stayed in Franz Josef town, and you quickly realise what a tourists trap this area has become. Helicopter flight after helicopter flight ferry people up to the top of the glaciers. That really is the only way to see them these days as they both are rapidly retreating. You can only think this is solely down to climate change. You cannot get anywhere near to Fox Glacier due to rockfalls.
I heard that in a few years they’ll both be gone, and then what will become of this area? It is dependant on tourism. Whilst it is interesting, it is nowhere near my favourite place in the South.
One of the things I love about this country is all the diverse wildlife. At Cape Foulwind, near Westport, I saw families of fur seals with tiny baby seals in tow!
The north coast and Abel Tasman National Park
My final stop in the south was the Abel Tasman area. I stayed in a lovely small town call Takaka, and this allowed me to access the park from the least busy side. Driving into the park, I pretty much was on my own. I found a beautiful beach to have my lunch, with white sand and crystal clear sea, it was amazing. I even had a huge skate glide past me! I hiked up to an amazing waterfall in the hills and then walked on the beach in Golden Bay, it was all pretty idyllic. I could’ve been in the Caribbean.
I am flying up to Auckland tomorrow, which I am looking forward to, but I’ll be sad to say goodbye to the South Island. It has been my third time here and it’s as beautiful as ever. If you ever get the chance, come see what all the fuss is about.
Flying back into Christchurch last week, I was reminded of how much I enjoy spending time here. It is my third time in 16 years visiting New Zealand and I love it more than ever.
Christchurch is a city that’s still recovering from the huge earthquake that hit the city in February 2011. I last was there in 2005, and returning in 2016 I could barely recognise the place. The city centre was devastated by the quake and one of the main buildings, the cathedral, had it’s spire toppled and is still in a state of ruin. I was surprised how long the recovery work is taking, but it is happening slowly, the whole city is a building site.
The resilience of the people however is amazing, and chatting to them you see that they have optimism that the future is bright. They have created a temporary shopping centre made out of shipping containers which was pretty cool and even built a temporary cathedral made predominately out of cardboard!
The old city is still there is in parts though, the River Avon still flows lazily through the city, and you can still be punted along, it kind of reminded me of the city where I was born, Stratford Upon Avon.
Dunedin and the Otago peninsula
After I left Christchurch, I headed south to Dunedin. Dunedin translates as ‘Edinburgh of the south’ in Gaelic, and it certainly does feel very Scottish. Lots of Scottish place names and British looking buildings. Lots of the south of New Zealand was settled by the Scots, including the other city here, Invercargill.
One of the architectural highlights of the city is the railway station, photo below. It also a great art gallery, a great vegetarian cafe called ‘Pou Pourri’ and I also found a fantastic second hand bookshop called ‘Dead Souls’!
I then headed off on a drive around the Otago peninsula, just outside the city. It takes about two hours to drive around, and it is definitely worth it. I got up very close and personal with some sunbathing seals, spotted an albatross soaring in the sky above me and saw some dramatic seascapes, cliffs and rolling hills too. Oh and I also saw a rare yellow-eyed penguin. There are only 6,000 in the world, so that was a good spot I thought!
The Catlins rainforest
The Catlins sit between Dundein and Invercargill. I don’t think many people know about the area. It is very remote and very beautiful. I saw some stunning waterfalls, remote and empty white sand beaches, three hawks swoop past my car, fields and fields of amazing wildflowers and much more.
Invercargill and Bluff
Invercargill is probably even more Scottish feeling than Dunedin. I spent the night here, and it was blowing a gale when I arrived, so it felt even more than Scottish than I had anticipated!
I drove south to a small town called Bluff. This is the most southerly settlement in the country and probably one of the most southerly places in the world. I arrived there on 11 December 2106, exactly three months since I flew out of London to begin my trip, so it felt a fitting place to mark the milestone. From here on in, the only way is north….
Perth is often cited as one of the most isolated cities in the world, and it feels like it. It’s the capital of Western Australia, though everyone just calls it W.A.
It took nearly five hours to fly to Perth from Sydney, about the same flying time as London to Dubai! Perth and the surrounding suburbs are as British as they come. It’s like stepping into Little Britain. I am not really sure why so many Brits have moved here, but it’s kind of weird – in some places you hardly hear an Australian accent at all!
One of the highlights of Perth is Kings Park. It is huge and I am told is one of the largest urban parks in the world. It has some great views of the city, a botanic garden, a outdoor theatre, a war memorial, and art gallery and lots more. I spent a great afternoon there sheltering from the intense sun. And the flies.
I spent a lot of time up in the northern suburbs of Perth. There is a huge building boom going on, with huge new estates being built all over the place. You really get a sense of how W.A. is booming. There are some beautiful beaches, including a natural lagoon called Yahchep Lagoon.
I love Melbourne! I lived there for six months in 2005 on my working holiday visa and this was my first time back in 11 years. Not much has really changed. It is still very friendly, still has great architecture, and is still a great city to stroll around taking in the sights, which I did for four days.
I stayed on St Kilda Road in the Prahan area, a great location to go south to St Kilda, north to the city and east to Prahan and South Yarra. Christmas preparations were in full swing, Melbourne sure does love Christmas. I saw a great illuminated Christmas light show projected onto the old post office, a clip of which is in the video above.
I also visited a fantastic museum and art gallery in the city. The National Gallery of Victoria is wonderful and has a great permanent collection of 19th and 20th century Australian art. The collection is split into two galleries, one international, one Australian. These are some of my favourite painting from the collection. Similar to most galleries in Australia, it is all free too!
Tennis, tennis, tennis
Anyone who knows me knows I love tennis. I therefore had to do a guided tour of Melbourne Park, home of the Australian Open. I went into the men’s top 100 changing room, saw Andy Murray’s locker too! We got to go onto Rod Laver Arena, Margaret Court Arena and saw the men’s and women’s champions trophies. It’s a great tournament and I only wish I was there in January to see it.
One of the things I love about travelling is visiting all of the amazing museums and art galleries around the world. One of the best I have visited is the Art Gallery of New South Wales. The history of Austarlian art is more varied than you might think, with Aboriginal art only really coming into its own in the 1970s, and white Australian art finding its voice in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Here are a few of my favourite pieces from the gallery.
The skyline of Sydney must be one of the iconic skylines in the world. I have been here three times over the course of 16 years and have never failed to be awed by it. The opera house was very controversial when it was built, it was over time and over budget built it is now firmly one of the iconic buildings of the world. And what a view!
Here’s my videologue of the few days I spent in Sydney.
I’ve also had the great joy of meeting up again with two friends, who I met in very different ways! I met my friend Amy on New Years Eve in Sydney in 2004, both being rather the worse for wear with alcohol! But we hit it off & stayed in touch ever since. I’m greyer and Amy is married with two kids but we haven’t changed really.
Louisa used to be my manager when I worked in Lewes in Sussex! But a professional relationship became a friendship and when she moved back to Sydney we stayed in touch. It’s been great to see both again.