New Zealand – parting thoughts.

I’ll make no bones about it – I loved New Zealand. In total, I was there for 35 days, drove nearly 6000km, camped out eight times, stayed in twelve different hostels, and took over 3000 photos. I travelled to the far north, the far south, woke to the sunrise on stunning beaches, flew over glaciers, and sailed in fjords. But in all that, what will I take away with me?

Firstly, because of the distance that I drove and the route I took, a big memory will be the roads in NZ. The roads themselves ranged from well-maintained urban tarmac to gravelly unsealed mountain passes – but all accessible without 4WD. My particular love was the latter style – the anticipation of turning off a main road onto gravel, the slow winding routes up steep valley sides, the adrenaline when meeting an oncoming logging truck, the occasional worry that the road would never end, and the payoffs of stunning views. New Zealand is not an overly populated country, so it was very rare to encounter heavy traffic, and most of the time I’d have the roads to myself – an absolute joy after years of the M62/M6 troll to Preston and back every day. On some routes (, particularly in the Coromandel Peninsula, and the Pacific Coast Highway,) I would drive for an hour without seeing another car, which was an absolute joy. Another highlight was SH1 – presumably State Highway 1 – which is the central spine of the NZ road network. This primary road, while dual-carriageway/motorway around the cities, also had numerous single-lane bridges, gravel sections, and an absence of traffic that often made it seem like a rural B-road.

Arthur's Pass Western Highway

New Zealand’s geography is volcanic and mountainous, and naturally I spent a lot of time navigating deep valleys or seeing mountain ranges through the windscreen. The drive up to Arthur’s Pass, helicopter flight over the glaciers, and the trip into Doubtful Sound were all times when I came right up close to the scenery, but at all times (except in the flatter, rolling hills of the deep south) the mountains were never far away. I particularly enjoyed the way that the mountains didn’t mess about. There was none of the typical plains-hills-foothills-mountains nonsense that most countries have – in New Zealand they just erupt from flat land, which makes sense I guess with a lot of them actually being volcanic. Along the West Coast Highway was an especially good example of this, where the road ran along a 10m-1km flat section between the sea and sudden mountains. I did, however, become a little numbed to them after a while, and think that my exit from Fiordland down to Invercargill was perfectly timing to avoid the views becoming merely everyday sights instead of the stunning experience that they were.

Hostels were also an intrinsic part of my visit. While I did have a tent and camped quite a lot, often the weather wasn’t particularly conducive to sleeping outdoors and I stayed in quite a lot of hostels. The majority, and particularly the YHA hostels, were clean, tidy, and modern, but a few were outstanding for good or ill. Hogwartz in Dunedin, the YHA in Gisborne, Sparky’s in Invercargill, and Haka Lodge in Christchurch were all examples of smaller well-run places, where the atmosphere was good and stays comfortable. On the flip-side, Uenuku Lodge in Auckland was seedy (too many long-term British residents), Crank in Rotorua had awful acoustics and late-night parties, and Point Break near Christchurch was filthy. Mostly, however, the hostels in NZ were merely a place for me to sleep before heading off early the next day – I suspect I will develop a different feeling in later countries where I’m not just staying for a night at a time. I’m also going to start to take pictures of the hostels – it would have been useful to have been able to illustrate the places that I’d stayed in, without having to borrow the pictures of others… (the ones below aren’t mine).

Sparky's, Invercargill Gisborne YHA

The biggest regret that I have about the trip is that, because I stayed in hostels only for a night or two at a time, I barely met any Kiwis (the people rather than birds). I did meet lots of Germans, Canadians, Brits and others in the hostels, but even those meetings were fleeting – though in some cases, that proved beneficial 🙂 This is something that I will try to rectify in the rest of my trip, as the world isn’t merely views and places but also the people that populate it. I have been known to be a bit of a misanthrope in the past, and I still get irritated far too easily by some things that people do (I may have a rant-filled post on this in the future), but this is something that I will definitely have to overcome on my travels – otherwise they’ll be very lonely.

So, now onwards to Australia. Will it have the same lasting impact as New Zealand? Let’s see…

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