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Tips for travelling New Zealand in a campervan

As we had to cancel our trip to Fiji due to cyclone Evans, we decided to spend the money on getting a campervan and travelling around New Zealand for a month instead.

We originally looked into a Flexipass from Intercity, a pre-pay system for your bus travel, and bought 40 hours each worth of travelling. Problem was we soon realised that we couldn’t really get to the places we wanted, when we wanted.

Unfortunately, there is no way of finding this out unless you buy the ticket, get your access codes and then look at the routes and times on the website. Having realised we wouldn’t be able to see what we wanted we requested a refund. This all went through without a problem as we hadn’t booked anything, one of the clauses for a refund.

With the money back we decided to look into a campervan instead. We had 2 choices, rent from a company and have no hassles or worries if anything goes wrong, or buy a vehicle and then sell it at the end.

This latter option is more popular than you might think, especially as insurance is not compulsory in New Zealand. The downside is you take a risk with the vehicle when you buy it and you also have to make sure you can sell it at the end of your trip. Personally I think if you have under a month it’s not worth the hassle, but if you are planning to travel for a few months then it could save you a small fortune.

You can buy a car or MPV from hostel billboards, auctions (there is one on Saturday mornings near the quay in Auckland, just ask any hostel for directions) or backpacker websites.

In terms of the rental market there are a few main companies including; Escape, Wicked, Spaceships, Lucky, Jucy, Apollo and Britz. The last 3 start getting pricey but depending on what you are after you may find them useful.

The rental price varies greatly on the time of year you are visiting and as such it pays to shop around. For size and value we opted for Escape, it seemed to offer the most, including the largest bed in the budget category – which is useful if your partner is tall!

Based on previous experiences of camping around Europe I have to say that New Zealand is a breeze. Not only are there numerous campsites dotted around the country but there are also, and what I believe to be the best option for a budget, DOC and scenic reserve campsites. Most of these are managed by an honesty box, basically a box where you place your filled in form and payment, and facilities range from just compost toilets to cold showers and even cooking facilities.

These campsites rely on visitors paying their fees, taking all rubbish away with them and respecting the local wildlife. They are usually found in some of the best places around New Zealand and prices range from NZ$6 to NZ$12 (around Auckland) per person.

Be warned that in New Zealand it is against the law to just camp anywhere. But if you are fully self-contained (with your own toilet facilities) then you can “freedom camp” which means you can stay for free at certain designated places.

If you are not self-contained, as we were, you can still camp for free at certain places. Being conscientious you could in essence park in scenic reserves with toilet facilities where it does not say that you cannot camp, however be respectful to your surroundings as we have heard numerous stories from locals about not-so-conscientious people leaving behind “personal waste”. Words cannot describe our reaction…

If you opt for a non-self-contained camper you will not be travelling with your legs crossed praying for the next toilet. I have never seen so many free public toilets in one country as I have in New Zealand. And as a general rule most i-Sites have toilets and any village larger than a dot on a map will also have facilities.

Apart from cold showers at some DOC sites certain i-Sites, mainly in larger towns, have showering facilities for a few dollars. You can also get a solar shower, provided by most rentals when you take out full insurance, which allows you take a warm to hot shower depending on the weather.

A tip for technology addicts is that almost every town with a public library seems to offer free Wi-Fi access, some are time limited but most are not.

If travelling along the coast and they are to your taste, you can happily fish for your own mussels, clams and oysters. However, local authorities urge you to only take what you will eat so as to not over fish.

The roads in New Zealand are in excellent conditions and apart from the odd gravel road you can happily drive almost anywhere with your rental. Also, due to the roads and size of the country you can easily travel the 2 islands in about a month. Having said that if you are looking for a slower pace and really want to take in everything you could happily spend 3 months on the road; just be realistic about your budget!

 
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Posted by on January 29, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Why travel?

Travelling. It seems to have become the trend of the 20th century. It is a must for young and old alike, something to enrich your life and your CV. Those who travel write about it and those who want to travel talk about it.

Ultimately, everyone has their own reasons for wanting to travel, most would say its to see the world, or to make the most of their life, some may even say its simply just because it sounds like fun. But I have to ask, is this enough?

Can the simple urge to want to see and do more substantiate a long-term travel or do you need more? After all, long-term travelling is very different from planning a few weeks away. It requires you to literally change the way you live to a whole new lifestyle pretty much overnight. And no matter how prepared you may think you are, after the novelty wears off you will have to face that moment in your travels when you ask yourself, “why am I travelling?”

My initial reasons had always been to experience the world and learn about new cultures, before I inevitably settled down in one place and joined the rest of society with a “normal” life.

I know some would say that you don’t have to “settle” and you could change your life to in essence travel forever, moving from country to country for potentially most of your life. However, despite the desire and pull to travel, I know deep down this is not my ultimate goal.

I admit I do eventually want my own house, with a piece of land to call my own. I am not saying I necessarily want to marry and have kids, but I do feel that I will want to set down roots sooner or later. And strangely enough, the more we travel the more I am aware of that urge.

So I ask myself why am I travelling? The answer that comes to my mind is not what I had expected.

The obvious answers do not fight for prime position, but rather shy away to a different answer, one that I had not expected. After all, I was sure I was here to see and feel the world! Instead what floated to my mind was the fact that I want to see if I can do it.

Can I survive a year of travelling, of uncertainty and if so, what can I learn about myself and how I interact with the world around me? Or even more so, will I learn anything at all?

Now I am not discounting any of my experiences or places that I have the good fortune to visit, and I am happy to have travelled for as long as we have. But ultimately, I have come to realise that travelling is more about the person than the places.

Travelling is hard. It tries you, and even more so if you are in a relationship. It tests your resourcefulness and your adaptability, but if you let it, it can be very rewarding and it can also teach you new depths about yourself that you may not have even known existed.

After all, there has to be more behind travelling than just being long-term sightseers snapping photos…

 
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Posted by on December 28, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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The top 5 of Latin America

Looking back on our time in Central and South America I started to think of the best places we visited for value, beauty, experiences etc. So I thought I should compile a short list of the best countries we visited for some of the essentials:

1 – Value and experiences

For me I think Guatemala is top of the list for this. Not only is the country by far one of the cheapest that we visited, but it also seems to have an endless supply of places to see and things to experience. From the must-ride colourful chicken buses of “Guate,” as the locals call it, to the beautiful old city of Antigua surrounded by towering volcanos, to the endless Mayan temples buried deep within the northern jungles. Plus, let’s not forget the colourful markets where bartering with locals is definitely a fun game for both side, and where you can still walk away with amazing bargains.

2 – Relaxation and beaches

This category is harder as there are definitely 2 contenders for this spot, Belize and Costa Rica. However, for a slow relaxation pace you can’t beat Belize. As they say in Caye Caulker, “Go Slow”. From sandy white beaches stretching out into clear waters, coconut trees dotting the horizon and endless snorkelling along the barrier reef, Belize wins hands down. And if the empty country with less than 400,000 inhabitants still feels too crowded, you can always disappear to a small secluded Caye off the shore of the mainland.

3 – Adventure

Costa Rica should again definitely be considered for this, with cloud forests, sandy beaches and volcanos there is something for everyone. However, next door and working very hard to catch up is the underdog, Nicaragua. Although, the country does not yet have the same infrastructure in place that Costa Rica offers, it more than makes up for it in the variety of tours and experiences you can choose from. Whether you want to trek an active volcano, go rafting in the rivers, take a boat ride on a steaming lake or go boarding down the side of a volcano, Nicaragua offers it, and best of all at probably half the price.

4 – Diversity

Although we did not get to explore this country as extensively as we would have liked to, we could already see that Argentina deserves to win this category. In one country you can experience, salt plains, deserts, multi-coloured mountains, immense waterfalls, bustling cities, vineyards and glaciers. Now I know Chile also offers much of the same, and having travelled from north to south of it back in 2010 I do feel that it is a very close contender, but somehow I feel Argentina just pegs the lead on this category.

5 – Living history

Having now been to Peru twice, I still believe that it offers visitors a unique chance to glimpse history in modern times. With a large range of amazingly well-preserved sites and artefacts it allows you to experience both the Pre-Inca and Inca civilisations almost first-hand. Apart from the well-known sites of Machu Picchu and Cusco, there are numerous sites dotted throughout the country, from the museum of Sipan with the incredibly well-preserved mummies and their clothing to the relaxing Tipon complex. For me it still remains a truly memorable country to visit.

Of course if we had to do it all again we would visit every country, but these for us really stood out the most.

 
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Posted by on December 19, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Mendoza and a wine and olive tour

We arrived in Mendoza following an overnight bus journey with FlechaBus from Buenos Aires. The journey was really comfortable as we were lucky enough to get a new bus with seats on the front row at the top. There were numerous bus options to Mendoza but we decided to choose one we knew. A useful website we found was Omnilineas, for a full timetable and prices of buses from Buenos Aires to across Argentina.

Once in Mendoza we headed out to our pre-booked hostel, Chimbas, located a short 10 minutes walk from the bus terminal. We were pleasantly surprised with the hostel and would go as far as saying it was one of the nicest we have stayed in!

Our main reason for visiting Mendoza was for the wine tours, this was one activity I had really been looking forward to. We were also considering renting a car for a day to drive up to the pass between Argentina and Chile and take in the sites, such as the Inca bridge and surrounding Andes. However, we were already over our budget for Argentina and when we looked at the rentals we simply couldn’t afford it.

As such we decided to spend the couple of days we had left in the country absorbing the last of the sun and going on a wine tour. We spent a day walking around the city and to be honest weren’t overly impressed. It was a nice enough place with plenty of places to eat, cafes and shops, but with nothing of particular interest to us.

Mendoza - busy cafes on pedestrianised Paetonal Sarmiento

On our second day in Mendoza we booked a half day wine and olive tour for 100 pesos each. The reason we booked a tour instead of doing it ourself was due to the fact the wineries/vine yards are spread out across a large area and getting from one to the other on public transport is not so easy.

The tour mini-van picked us up at around 3pm and we headed over to the region of Maipu, located about 30 minutes drive from Mendoza. The tour consisted of 2 wineries and an olive products producer.

The first stop was Baudron, a medium-sized winery which both exported and sold their wines around Argentina. The tour itself was fairly interesting, if not a bit rushed, and we got to see the process on making and bottling wine on a large-scale. After the tour we got to sample 3 of their wines, 2 reds and 1 white.

Maipu, Baudron winery - old huge wine barrels

Maipu, Baudron winery - industrial machinery

The next stop was at the second winery, Cavas de Don Arturo, a small-scale family business with the vineyards in the same grounds. Despite this one seeming more promising and hoping for a more in-depth tour, our Canadian guide seemed more interested in just getting the tour over with than anything else, and when asked a question she kept saying she was new and didn’t really know. At this point I wished I had opted for the Spanish guide instead, as they not only seemed to take longer going through the same tour but I also over heard her giving a more detailed account of the vineyards. After the tour, we again got to sample their wines and this time were lucky enough to trial 4 of them with free snacks too. The owners who didn’t speak English were present for the tasting and seemed very welcoming so it’s a shame the tour was not the same.

Maipu, Cavas de Don Arturo - winery storage cell

The last stop of the tour was Pasrai, an olive oil producer who also produced olive oil skin care products and dried fruits. This was definitely the most informative of the 3 tours and it was really interesting to learn about the process of making olive oil. The tour also included a sampling of their oils on bread, their olive paste ranges and some of their raisins. It could have almost been a mini banquet if they had added a free drink!

Maipu, Pasrai - olive oil processing plant machines

Overall, the tours were ok. It was a shame that they felt so commercialised and at times rushed, as it could have been a very interesting and fun afternoon. The only person who was informative and energetic throughout the day was our transport guide, Dolores, who gave us loads of useful information about the industry, the growing of the grapes and the places we would be seeing.

 
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Posted by on December 8, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Travelling – the good and the bad

Its true that you can never really predict things in your normal day-to-day life, but this is even more the case when you’re travelling. We had officially celebrated 9 months of relative hassle free travelling, we had never had problems finding somewhere to stay, never really struggled with the transport systems and almost always found something to eat, so all-in-all it had been a stress free time.

However, on our last day in Buenos Aires, that all changed.

We had learned that travelling overnight on a Saturday was not always a great idea as most countries would observe the Sunday closure traditions. As such, we had taken to travelling overnight on Sundays and enjoyed the relatively quieter departures from bus stations.

As we were heading to Mendoza next, a 14 hour bus journey, we left Buenos Aires on Sunday afternoon. Heading off to Retiro, the bus terminal, we thought nothing of the journey. The only thing that got my senses tingling were the types of people hanging around outside the terminal. I don’t like to judge people by their appearances, but the crowds just seemed a little rougher looking than the ones we had encountered when we arrived.

Unfortunately, my senses were right, with only a few more metres to go from the entrance I heard a hissing noise, like a bottle being squeezed. Seconds later I smelt a terrible odour and when I touched my unfortunately long hair, it was covered in green slime. Within seconds a lady approached claiming it must have been a bird dropping and offered me a tissue, however I instantly noticed my partner seemed to have the same green slime all over his trousers too. We stopped for a minute and tried to get the stuff off, only to realize it would be a lost case without a bathroom to hand.

The lady then started to say that the stuff was on the backpacks and we should clean them. I had already realised what the game was here but had not been sure if she was in on it too or not. Instantly I turned around and headed straight to the bus station with my partner in tow, thinking “its bad enough I just got selected to be robbed, but I am not giving you my things that easily!”

For anyone not aware of the scam, it goes like this:

Step 1, cover victim with something such as spilled drink or in our case bad-smelling slime.
Step 2, offer help and try to get backpacks, bags etc away from victim.
Step 3, steal said bags from now double victim!

At the terminal we realised just how bad they had gotten us, we had the stuff on our trousers, bags, tops and I had it in my hair too. Armed with a change of clothes and shampoo I headed to the bathroom, praying it would wash out. Luckily, it all came out from the clothes and hair and did not leave any stains or smells behind. Needless to say the bathroom attendant was not surprised when I explained what had happened, saying “yeah that’s how they try to steal from tourists”.

Once we were both washed and changed we headed off to catch our bus for Mendoza and tried to leave the bad experience behind us. As is always the case you never know what’s coming next, and luckily following the bad came a bit of good.

The bus was brand new and they served champagne as soon as we moved off, apparently something included in our ticket that we did not know about. And so despite the foiled robbery, we sat on the bus and toasted Buenos Aires goodbye with our complimentary drinks!

 
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Posted by on December 1, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Buenos Aires

From Iguazu waterfalls we decided to head to Buenos Aires to explore the city of Tango. I am not usually drawn to large cities and we have often avoided the capitals on our travels, but Buenos Aires seemed to attract me. So we took another overnight bus with Rio Uruguay for 624 pesos each. There was actually a special offer for 20% off the normal fare for the “cama” bus, so needless to say, we treated ourself to the fully reclining seats.

We had spent a great deal of time trying to find an affordable hostel in the city, and despite looking at all different options we were unable to find one within budget, without opting for dorms. Then we accidentally stumbled across Airbnb, a website for rooms and apartment rentals. Against the odds, we found an actual apartment in the Federal district with lower rates than the hostels!

We initially booked for 4 nights and after a few phone calls met the owner at the apartment. We didn’t have huge expectations of the place but it actually turned out to be a full apartment with a small living room, bedroom, bathroom and small kitchen. We were thrilled.

After a couple of days of exploring the area we decided to extend our stay for another week and the owner gave us an even better rate of 140 pesos per night!

Buenos Aires is a large city with the usual traffic congestions and suits rushing around the place. However, there is also another side to the city, in fact several sides. Each district of the city has its own feel and character to it, from the business centre of the Federal district to the charming area of San Telmo. During our time we visited the following areas:

Federal District

The business centre of the city is filled with shopping outlets from small stores to large commercial centres like the Galerias Pacifico, and eateries, from upmarket restaurants to fast food places. However, the area also has the famous Obelisk located on Avenida 9 de Julio, one of the world’s widest avenues, the government palace, the cathedral and the plaza San Martin with the beautiful Palacio Paz.

Buenos Aires, San Martin - beautiful building of Palacio San Martin

Buenos Aires - Casa Rosada on Plaza de Mayo

Buenos Aires - the obelisk and ever present purple trees

Buenos Aires - widest avenida of the city, 9 de Julio

San Telmo

Located just south of the chaotic Federal district, San Telmo has a different pace and feel to it. Strolling through the cobbled streets filled with old buildings, cafes and antique markets, you can feel yourself relax. Although there aren’t many actual places of interest to see, apart from maybe the Russian Orthodox church, the district is worth an afternoon to chill out in the sun and catch the odd Tango show with your coffee.

Buenos Aires, San Telmo - old bar Dorrego and cobbled streets

Buenos Aires, San Telmo - five blue-dome orthodox church

La Boca

Probably one of the most famous districts of Buenos Aires, La Boca feels like it belongs to a different era. The walk there is not great and you can be forgiven for thinking you are heading towards the worse part of town, because in essence this is also one of the poorest. Yet when you turn the corner onto el Caminito you step through to another world. A brightly coloured world filled with beautiful buildings unlike anywhere else in the city. The actual tourist area is only a couple of roads but it is not to be missed.

Buenos Aires, La Boca - colourful facade of pizzeria on Garibaldi street

Buenos Aires, La Boca - colourful facade of a shop at Lucia's corner

Buenos Aires, La Boca - Caminito Havanna on Araoz de Lamadrid street

Recoleta

Located just north of the Federal district, Recoleta is most known for its cemetery. The area itself is not unlike the centre except there are larger parks which make it feel less busy. However, the Recoleta cemetery is not something to be missed, despite how unusual it may seem to pay one a visit. You need to allow at least 2 hours to see the whole thing properly. It is open everyday until 6pm and you can take photos without any problems. It is most famous for having the tomb of Evita Peron along with other national figures, but walking through this cemetery feels like being in some strange other worldly village.

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery - one of the streets

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery - Faustino Domingo Sarmiento monument

Buenos Aires, Recoleta Cemetery - fantastic detail on one of the monuments

Palermo

Located just above Recoleta, Palermo seems to be more catered towards nature, with its expansive parks and zoo. Our favourite places were the free botanical gardens, filled with many different species of trees and plants and the Japanese gardens. There is an entry fee of 16 pesos each for these gardens, but it is definitely worth it. Originally built for the visiting royalty of Japan, the gardens are a little gem in the city. With bridges, ponds, waterfalls and a Japanese cafe it makes for a perfect afternoon place!

Buenos Aires, Palermo - botanical garden

Buenos Aires, Palermo - Japanese garden

Buenos Aires, Palermo - postcard shot of a bridge in the Japanese garden

We really enjoyed our time in Buenos Aires, and ironically it was our cheapest place yet in Argentina, a country where you really have to make your money work!

 
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Posted by on November 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Puno, Lake Titicaca and the Uros Islands

From Cuzco we took a direct overnight bus to Puno, which unfortunately arrived at around 4.30am. We had pre-booked the Quechuas backpackers hostel in Puno, so we took a taxi for 5 soles and arrived at what looked like a very closed hostel. After ringing the bell and waiting for what seemed like an eternity, the door finally opened and we were shown to a lovely room where we were instructed to just rest and check-in later. Feeling grateful and in need of some sleep we went straight to bed for a few hours.

The hostel turned out to be one of the best ones we stayed in during our trip. The owner was lovely and helpful, the price included breakfast and free tea/coffee all day and to top it all off, whereas some places would have charged us an extra night for the early check-in, Quechuas, gave the night and breakfast for free!

We planned to stay only 2 days in Puno, as the town itself is fairly small and there isn’t much to see outside of the lake. Also, as it’s a touristy place the food prices are quite high, although we were lucky enough to find Govinda, a set vegetarian lunch place for only 6 soles each.

There a few trips that you can do around Lake Titicaca, including the famous floating Uros Islands, Taquile Island and Amantani Island. We opted for the half day trip to the Uros, and in all fairness you don’t need more than half a day to see them.

I had done this tour back in 2008 and remember it as a fairly peaceful trip with not too many people around. It had had tourists but not hoards of them, and so I was looking forward to taking the trip again with my partner.

We discovered that you have 2 options to see the floating islands, the easy option is to book a tour for around 25 soles each, which includes all your transport and a guide. The second is to go to the port and buy a return ticket to the islands and pay the entry tax. Although, I am not sure as to how you would navigate from island to island if you wanted to.

For simplicity’s sake we took the tour. We were picked up at from the hostel at 8am and went to the dock to board our boat. Once everyone had arrived we headed off to the floating islands. The boat ride is around half an hour and the lake is so calm that you don’t feel like you are on water.

Lake Titicaca: on the way to the floating Uros islands

There are around 60 small islands in total, with 40 odd being located within easy reach of the tour boats. The people from Uros have adapted their way of life to cater for the tourists and a large part of their livelihood now comes from tourism. As a result the tour boats are evenly spread between the islands, with each one receiving 1 – 2 boats per day.

Lake Titicaca: approaching the floating Uros islands

Lake Titicaca: the floating Uros Islands

Each island has its own mini community with a leader and a few families. The women tend to make textiles and the men work on handicrafts and each island has its own little market of handmade goods.

Lake Titicaca: a community in the floating Uros islands

When you first arrive at your designated island you are greeted by the inhabitants and shown how they live, how the islands are formed, what they eat and how, at the markets, they exchange their goods such as fish for fruit and vegetables, which they are unable to grow. Although very much catered to tourists, the explanations are interesting and give you an insight to their heritage.

Lake Titicaca: floating Uros Island presentation

Once over you are invited to see inside their houses and even try on some clothes. You then have the option to pay 10 soles extra for a short ride in their reed boat to a main island. Alternatively, you can just get back on your boat as it has to go there anyway…

The main island I can only describe as hideous. It is almost looks like a floating commercial centre with small bars, restaurants and gift shops. It is totally out-of-place and must be new as I do not remember this from my last trip.

Unfortunately, the Uros islands are now far more tourism orientated than my last visit, so much so that each island seemed to have a boat located on its side. Although I understand the communities’ need for tourism I feel it is going too far and they are turning their pretty little islands and themselves into circus shows. A real shame as it used to be a lovely tranquil place….

Lake Titicaca: reed boat on calm waters

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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