The Quiet Traveller: Day 25 – Wellington

‘To awaken in a strange town is one of the most pleasant sensations in the world’ – Freya Stark. This is printed in my travel journal at the bottom of page of Day 25, and I cannot agree more. There is a unique buzz to waking up in somewhere yet to be explored, much like when a new biscuit variant arises in the nibbles aisle.

This morning I planned to hit up Wellington and New Zealand’s main museum, Te Papa. Several things stood out here; I was particularly impressed by the Gallipoli exhibit, which consisted of telling the story of the New Zealanders who fought there through human sculptures 2.4 times the size of your standard edition human. The attention to detail was incredible – you could see individual hairs on an arm and the beads of sweat dripping down their face.

Another section of the museum contained Maori history, detailing the culture and society of the native people. In some ways, the modern Maori culture reminds me of the Welsh, in that they both have rather niche languages and unique cultural histories. Or maybe it’s just the rugby.

The museum also hosted a ‘Colossal Squid’, which consisted of a giant squid in a glass box. Sadly for the squid, it seemed long dead.

Unfortunately I soon got tired of the museum, as despite on paper being an ideal introvert-friendly place, it really wasn’t. This was mostly due to it being half-term or whatever the Kiwi equivalent is, meaning there were lots of children being very loud and hogging the interactive exhibits. The human child insists on pushing flashing buttons, despite a complete lack of interest in the consequence of pushing said button. A bit like the Donald with the nuclear button. I understand the need to make museums interesting to pull in punters, but sometimes it would be nice to have a simple museum where you just read stuff. Maybe I’m just getting old.

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A wall of people saying nice things. The opposite of Twitter.

After a brief lunch stop for a much needed sandwich, I headed off to my afternoon destination, the planetarium and observatory on the hillside. Very aptly, it is named the Space Place. To get up to the Place, I took the cable car, which took me through a hillside tunnel that seemed to be set up to simulate the mental state of ‘tripping balls’. The cable carriage took me through gently pulsing rings of light cycling through different colours, giving the impression that we were moving a lot faster than we actually were.

I wandered around the astrology exhibits whilst waiting for the planetarium show, which was a refreshing change from the loudness and chaos of Te Papa. The main piece in Space Place was the ornate Thomas Cooke telescope, taking up the whole space of the dome.

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Shiny scope boye.

The show itself was excellent, but I have to say I kept getting distracted by the Kiwi accent of the narrator. Maybe it’s a bit picky, but I think Brian Cox or David Attenborough would have been much better.

As I walked back down the hillside towards the hostel, I pondered how far away from home I was. Literally the other side of the world. Interestingly, I felt rather comfortable and rather in control despite this. I think this was because I had more freedom to get away from people when I wanted, and the fact that my aims of being in Wellington were simply to explore it and have fun. And with a week to do so, there was no rush whatsoever.

I also wondered what I was going to do next in Wellington. Having consulted the god of travel, his mightiness TripAdvisor, it wasn’t promising that a top attraction in the Wellington area was the train out of the city. That’s right, apparently one of the best things to do in Wellington is to leave the city. I would have to search a bit harder for things to do in the next few days.

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The Quiet Traveller: Day 24 – Wellington

Helped by the feeble attempts of a humming fan, which served to circulate the hot air around the room more than anything else, I managed to survive the night in what can only be described as a sauna with bunk beds.

Today was the start of a full week in Wellington, so I decided to smash through some travel admin in the morning before properly exploring the city. This essentially meant doing some washing, doing some shopping, and generally making a nest for myself in this new city. After moving around constantly for several weeks, it was refreshing to have a bit of a routine and the opportunity to relax.

To my surprise, the laundry room was a great experience, which is something that cannot be said of the majority of hostel laundry rooms. The majority of hostel laundry facilities look like a detergent bomb has gone off in them, and there’s always something out of order. And of course there’s the laundry room whiff.

Located on the top floor of the building, it had stunning views out over Wellington Harbour. As I stuffed my honking socks into the industrial machines, I gazed into the distance, and couldn’t help notice a slight sway to my frame of vision.

Infamous for its wind, the Wellington weather was making the building move ever so slightly. Upon returning to my dorm, I noticed an addition to the usual health and safety waffle – what to do in the event of an earthquake. It seemed that despite the built up nature of Wellington, nature itself was the overlord here.

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Oh yeah there might be an earthquake. Have a great stay though.

With my shopping and domestic chores out of the way, I headed into the heart of Wellington. My first impressions were one of a generic and heavily business based city, thanks to a number of corporate looking buildings that make up the CBD (Central Business District). However, I managed to escape the corporate jungle and soon found myself down by the harbourside.

At the water’s edge I encountered the Hikitia, a floating steam crane dating from 1926. Now I like history. But it was hard to get excited about a floating steam crane. I doubt anyone has ever got excited about a floating steam crane. I appreciate the efforts that have gone into preserving said steam crane. But at the end of the day, it’s a steam crane.

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Seagull: ‘Now who would like to hear a good story about a steam crane’

Wandering along the shoreline, I came across a much more interesting vessel, the RV Sonne, a German science research ship. It looked sleek and efficient, the epitome of German engineering. Given the location of Wellington and New Zealand itself, I imagine it would have been carrying out science in the Antarctic regions. I like to think that a research ship would be a good place for an introvert to work, given that in the Antarctic the only noise and crowds are breaking ice and penguins.

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Home for the next week.

Upon return to the hostel, I busied myself making some haricots sur le pain grillé. What amazed me was the people faffing with various avocados and concocting complex dishes. As an introvert, and especially as a hungry introvert who has been out all day, I just want to make my food as quick as possible when in a hostel kitchen so I can get to my book and digest and recharge. This was not always the case, sometimes I would stay and chat to people when I had the energy, who are of course generally friendly. I think we often forget that 99% of people are actually quite nice, it’s just the bad ones who get all the media attention. That’s you Donald.

The Quiet Traveller: Day 23 – Wellington (via Cook Strait)

I want to be a seal. No limbs, no responsibility. Kaikoura coastline seals know how to live.

Seal Schedule: (Sealdule)

Wake up, roll into sea.

Roll out of sea, go to sleep.

Repeat.

Departing Kaikoura for the second time, today we were bound for Wellington via the Cook Strait crossing, which meant switching from a four wheeled vehicle to a sea-going vessel. The Cook Strait is the gap of briny deep between the North and South Island, and is notorious for its unpredictability and often rough conditions. The Bluebridge ferry company would be given the honour of shuttling myself and others, vehicles, and cows across the strait on a fine grey day down under.

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Looking out for pirates. Spoilers – there were no pirates. 

Leaving the South Island, the vessel crept through the sea inlet, passing through lush green land on either side. Upon reaching the open ocean, I could see and feel why the Strait had earned its notorious reputation – the wind kicked up, and I clung a little more tightly to the railing. It was a refreshing way to travel though, having spent many hours on buses and planes in the past few weeks. I spent most of the voyage up on the helicopter landing deck, as it provided some shelter from the wind but still had great views.

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Departing the South Island. Feat. cows.

I didn’t have much time to look round the city upon arrival, so I hit up the supermarket opposite my hostel and found my room. Being in Wellington for a week and not being on the move every meant I could save some money by making use of a fridge and freezer – something which I was very excited about as it meant I could have a proper brewski, especially after the debacle at Rangitata.

My room was for six people and to be fair, was fairly roomy. But it was hot. It might have been too hot. I could feel the moisture in the air. This was gonna get sticky. Despite the immediate temperature issue, I was looking forward to exploring a new major city tomorrow. And to have a lie in – lie ins are actually a rare thing if one is moving everyday on the Stray bus.

This time roommates consisted of a couple of northern lads from Derby and Newcastle who were off to the pub, and Eden, a hippy Canadian girl who had with her a skateboard and a copy of ‘Big Magic’, a self-discovery book written by the author of ‘Eat Pray Love’. You shouldn’t judge people, and I myself was on a self-discovery expedition of sorts, but this person was a walking, talking, cliche.

I appreciated the AESTHETICS of carrying a skateboard around whilst travelling, but the impractical nature of it irritated me beyond belief. Firstly, hostels rarely have half-pipe facilities. Secondly, they’re fairly heavy. And finally, practicality > edginess. Maybe I’m just getting old.

I was being slowly roasted like a chicken in the room. Imagine those slowly roasting rotisserie chickens you see at the Tesco’s that do hot food, except the Tesco’s is in geostationary orbit around the Sun. That was me and my roommates enduring the sweatbox of a dormitory.

No amount of twisting and turning would provide relief from the crushing humidity. I turned my thoughts to icebergs, closed my eyes, and attempted to sleep. Tomorrow I would seek out a fresh oasis, one liquid version from the corner shop, and one quiet introvert one, within the bustle of the new city.

The Quiet Traveller: Day 22 – Kaikoura (2)

Due the circular nature of my route around the Southern Island, I was now re-entering previously explored territory on my way back up to the ferry terminal in Picton. This wasn’t such a bad thing though- it meant traversing through Kaikoura once again; a fate I was more than happy to accept.

It was a horrifically early start leaving Rangitata. So early that it was still dark outside. So early that it was 6:15am. No-one should be awake at such a time. This early arising put me in a miserable mood, and combined with the lack of a shower, multiple insect bites, an overly warm room, and a general fed-upness with being around people, it put me in the foulest of foul moods.

So I thought to myself, ‘you know what you need Simon? You need a cup of tea. That’ll sort you out.’ And my internal monologue version of Simon was right. I did indeed need a cup of tea. So I queued up with a cup and waited for my turn at the hot water boiler. To clarify, the tea was free and provided by the lodge.

I was just dropping my bag in the tea, when I noticed the woman next me draining the last of the milk into her own tea. ‘There might be some more in the fridge’ she half-heartedly muttered.

Picture the scene. I’m standing there with my milkless tea, after being told by a fellower traveller that I should go find some more milk. This traveller in question was another Brit. So naturally, I go and check the fridge.

Luckily there was another carton of milk in the fridge, so I opened it up and poure- THERE WAS NO MILK LEFT AND THIS PERSON CLEARLY KNEW AND DIDN’T CARE THAT I WAS GOING TO BE LEFT MILKLESS.

What sort of animal uses the last of the milk when it’s clearly in short supply. And it’s 5:45am. And the person in question is fellow Breton, from a country where tea is known to have magical healing properties that go beyond the known dimensions of the space-time continuum

This is why we have lost our humanity.

To add to my misery, when we got on the coach an absolute gogglemoose in front of me was on their phone with full brightness on. This meant it reflected off the window next to me, blinding me and preventing me from seeing the stars unhindered by light pollution. Some days people are just too much. Luckily I knew that at Kaikoura I could get away and do introvert stuff by myself. That kept me going that hideously early morning.

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Kaikoura looking lush. Look at that sea fog. Love a good sea fog. And a bit of bush.

I was pretty desperate for a recharge. My mind wandered whilst on the coach, and I thought about castles for a bit. Don’t ask me why, they just popped into my head. Partly because of the lack of them. When I think about it, we actually take our castles in Europe for granted. The UK is chock full of em.

But in Australia, NZ, and the USA, castles are in short supply. And old stuff in general. The minster in my town is from the 1200s or something. And it’s strange to think that places like NZ are whole countries but they don’t have anything that we would really consider a castle.

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Here’s me looking awkward. What’s awkwarder? The couple sitting on the beach ruining my photo.

Occasionally whilst walking through Kaikoura, you will hear what can only be described as an impending nuclear apocalypse.

Upon hearing the siren the first time, my mind panicked, first assuming a nuclear attack (despite Kaikoura being of zero strategic importance), followed by a tsunami (much more likely), followed by a hasty google to find out the source of the screeching.

The googling revealed that the fire brigade broadcast a warning klaxon whenever its fire fighters are needed on duty. This means they can rush to the station, but it also means traffic (of which there is little) is aware that a large red rectangle may soon be appearing in their rear view mirror.

I think this klaxon could have a number of applications in England, and after much thought I have come up with a top five:

  1.  Klaxon for when it’s warm enough to go outside in shorts and t-shirt.
  2.  Klaxon for when schools finish, nightclubs kick out, and when old people emerge to collect their pensions. (Ok that’s 3in1).
  3. Klaxon for when McDonald’s Monopoly season begins.
  4. Klaxon for when a truly fresh and truly zesty meme has been created.
  5. Klaxon for when Vincent Janssen scores from open play.

 

 

The Quiet Traveller: Day 21 – Rangitata

At Mount Cook, there was nothing there, and it was therefore glorious. At the next stop, Rangitata Rafting Lodge, there was nothing there, but it wasn’t exactly glorious.

This single night stop was so those who had signed up for the white water rafting could throw themselves down a furious stream of H2O. For everyone else however, this meant a lot of waiting around. The location was pleasant enough and isolated away from the nearest town – we were instructed to buy provisions on the way in.

In a certain twist of irony, I found myself missing the hustle and bustle of the city. At least in the city there are restorative niches and escape routes from people; out in the sticks I was stuck with strangers I had only just met. Which is fine, but not when you’re starting to get tired of people.

What surprised me the most about the accommodation was the triple decker beds. That’s right, TRIPLE bunk beds. Unfortunately being one of the last ones in, I ended up in a corner on the top bunk, with my face engaging in pleasantries with the ceiling. However, I soon discovered that this was actually quite a nice experience, as I was so high up it was like my own private area away from the street level below me. It’s always nice when something unexpectedly lends itself to your introvert tendencies.

I spent most of the day reading Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything, which I highly recommend to anyone with an interest in anything. But then I always recommend all Bill Bryson’s books, so then who am I to say?

Whilst reading on the Lodge veranda, I noticed some new Brits who had recently joined the bus sitting on a bench further down the entrance path. How did I know they were Brits? Shirts off. Bucket hats. Stella. Fags. The traditional exports of Her Maj’s islands. In general the people on this bus were not quite as fun or interesting as the last. But hey, I wasn’t going to see them again so I decided to just get on with it.

I chatted with Cookie (the driver) for a bit, and discovered that he joined Stray as a driver simply because it was offered as an opportunity to him and he thought ‘why not?’. Apart from the fact that NZ is a lot sunnier than Donegal, I believed him. The opportunity arose and he took it. Being a driver seems like a stressful job at times, given that you have to shepherd an ever-changing flock of often smelly and sweaty tourists who never seem to be on time. But on the other hand, the view out the office window is unbeatable. And sometimes you get to join in the activities. And the beverages.

There wasn’t really a lot going on at Rangitata. But I had noticed that my note-taking was getting much better. It was becoming a habit, and I was learning to memorise useful observations in a much more effective manner than the first few weeks. And much like cocaine, the habit was rather addictive. First I did a line. And then another. And then before I knew it, I had a full notebook. Don’t do sentences kids.

(The featured image is from the journey to Mount Cook – that’s how boring Rangitata was – I didn’t take any pictures)

The Quiet Traveller: Liebster Award

Firstly, thanks for the nomination from the It Takes Two blog run by Jamie and Brogan – do check out their blog for their experiences of travelling as a couple and for location specific travel tips!

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What is the Liebster Award?

The Liebster Award is an award that exists only on the internet, and is given to bloggers by other bloggers. It’s a great way to discover great blogs by new bloggers and support one and another in the blogging community. 

What are the rules?

  1. Thank the person who nominated you in a blog post and link back to their blogs.
  2. Answer the questions sent by the person who nominated you.
  3. Nominate other bloggers to receive the award and write them several new questions.
  4. List the rules and display the Liebster Award logo in your post and/or your blog!

My nominees:

A Hearty Nomad – See what happens when the hamster takes over!

Explore Adventure Discover – Jenny does some really cool traveller interviews over here.

The Age of the Introvert – The piece about solo travel as an introvert rings a lot of bells…

My answers to Jamie and Brogan’s questions:

What inspired you to travel?

Travelling was something that I had wanted to do for a long time. I remembering reading my Mum’s copy of ‘Around the World in 80 Days’, and I think I’ve always liked the idea of some kind of grand adventure. I think I also wanted to prove to myself that I could go around the world alone and return to tell the tale. Furthermore, I’m going to be dead in a matter of decades. This is fine by me – death is certain in life, as are taxes and the bottom bunk always being taken first.

What is your favourite and least favourite travel destination, and why?

On the trip I’m currently writing about, Iceland just pips New Zealand for me. New Zealand is without a doubt beautiful, but something about Iceland just feels other-worldly. From the moment you arrive at Keflavik to when you fly out over deserted landscapes, it feels like a completely different planet.

On the other hand, my least favourite place was Seattle. I’ll write more about this when I eventually reach that week of notes, but let’s just say I had high expectations and was rather disappointed. Mainly because of the Subway incident.

What are your Top 5 survival items for backpackers?

iPod Classic  – Incredibly useful for blocking out snoring roommates. Also great for staring out windows on buses or planes with a wistful look as if one is contemplating the deepest truths of man , when in reality you just really need a poo. No need for internet, and with a freshly changed battery (did this last week, wish I had done it before travelling) will last about a week. Sturdy. Durable. Full of bangers.

Eyemask –  This standard airline extra is very useful for when people come into dorm rooms late at night and turn on the lights. There’s a special place in hell for these people. Some masks are more comfortable than others – experiment to find your best option. You get used to the panic of waking up and trying to open your eyes only to see blackness.

Insect Repellent – Never 100% effective, but when you’re amongst a sandfly swarm you’ll be glad you packed it. Also doubles as mace. Make sure the bottle is kept in a plastic bag as they often leak and will stink out your bag if they do. 

Flip-flops – Hostel showers and bathrooms can often be slightly to horrifically grim. Nevertheless, they do the job. Wear flip-flops to avoid the worst of it. Be sure to keep them in a partitioned section of your bag however.

Google Maps Offline – I don’t know how I would have survived without out this. I was unable to use mobile data abroad with my contract, but if you download the map area that you want on Wifi before setting out, you can use your phone GPS (doesn’t use data) combined with the map area to find your exact location. Not very traditionalist adventurer I know, but could save you from wandering into dodgy areas. Or just getting lost in general.

What has been your most creative meal whilst travelling?

I’m not the most creative cook at home, let alone whilst travelling. Although one time I had these ‘baked beans’, which come in a tin. The tins have rings in the lid – you pull the ring to access the beans. You can also buy dough based slices in the shops, although I believe the technical term is ‘bread’. Most hostels have mechanical furnaces called toasters, which you use to cook the bread and turn it into ‘toast’. The penultimate step is to then heat the beans in what is labelled ‘microwave’, although in all the hostels none of the microwaves were particularly small and did not feature any visible tsunami-style action. Finally you pour the beans onto the toast. I haven’t thought of a name yet.

If money, visas and commitment were no object where would you live, and why?

Probably in the Scottish Highlands somewhere. I’d own an Aberdeen Angus called Kenneth, and I’d take him on walks with a large doggo. When the time came, I would eventually eat Kenneth through the medium of the burger, but he would have had a happy and fulfilling life.

My questions to the nominees:

What’s your favourite mode of transportation to travel on/in and why?

Who is the most interesting person you have met on your travels?

What is your favourite travel book and why?

Do you have any specific travel goals for the next 12 months?

What single photo best sums up your travels?

To nominees:

Give me a message once you’ve answered the questions – I would love to hear your answers!

Simon, The Quiet Traveller

https://www.facebook.com/thequiettraveller/

https://twitter.com/QuietTravel

 

The Quiet Traveller: Day 20 – Mount Cook

Today I was supposed to be leaving Queenstown for a more relaxed place. But it wouldn’t let me go without one last adrenaline rush. Although this one was definitely not wanted.

The night was spent at an Irish pub, a given due to the small gaggle of Irish within the group. After a number of beverages, we decided to get a change of scenery, attempting and failing to get into several packed bars before encountering what seemed to be a fairly acceptable drinking establishment. Alas, this venture was not to be.

I was refused entry without a single reason being given. Now to be clear, I had consumed beverages. But I was also possibly the most sober person of the whole group. This development of events did not make me angry, but gave me a severe case of the baffles. ‘But why?’ ran through my head. To be fair I had attempted to enter with a much more drunk member of the group, and this may have alarmed the security guards.

But still. Maybe it was just my face. Yeah, that was it. My violent, troublemaking, come and have go at me face, which says nothing but ‘fight me bitch’.

So that was the night’s events. Come morning, I had a massive panic when I realised I had lost my passport.

This resulted in me checking with reception, then them telling me to see if the police station had it. I hastily scribbled a note to my sleeping roommates to tell them to contact me if they found it, and then sprinted off, backpack in tow towards where I thought the police station was.

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Bottom of note I left to roommates – observe very appropriate QOTD.

Huffing and puffing, I reached the police station. And my heart dropped. The police station was closed for this weekend specifically. Typical, I thought, absolutely bloody typical. Dejected, yet waddling rapidly like a two legged camel, I made it back to the bus just in time before departure and took a seat. I was really rather angry with myself.

About 20 mins later, I decided to check my bag one last time in desperation. I had been googling lost passport procedures whilst the bus was in wifi range, and the reading didn’t make for good thoughts. I had flights to catch and new lands to explore. But this could not be done without a passport. Running my hand through the back panel in the main compartment one last time, I encountered a small purple rectangle, and a wave of relief hit me like a tsunami made of trains.

I had a feeling that I had taken the passport home with me, because I’m surprisingly good at not losing things (until Day 68, naturally, the last day). It turned out that I had stuffed the passport into my backpack, not really paying attention, and had inadvertently stuffed it into a secret compartment that I didn’t even know about, hence why I couldn’t locate it.

Nice one Simon, you’ve played yourself.

Returning to non-panic based events, today we were headed to Mount Cook, NZ’s highest mountain. The bus was a fresh mix of people, having said goodbye for now to a number of new friends (they would pop up again later), but the same driver. It was slightly strange starting again with new people, but I had done it before so I could do it again.

Our accommodation for the night was near the base of the mountain, situated on a glorious mountain plain in the middle of nowhere. I was placed in a room with a Dutch guy named Ezra, who claimed his brother was a famous Dutch athlete, and a Swiss guy named Elias. Both were friendly enough, and I was saddened to hear Ezra had had his hiking equipment nicked at a previous hostel (by a Belgian apparently). You’ve got to be the filthiest of vermin to steal from a fellow traveller. (Disclaimer: not all Belgians are tent grabbing psychopaths).

Seeing as Ezra fancied himself as a bit of a pro hiker, I decided to whack out my walking shoes and announced I was going on a ‘hike’. By the term ‘hike’, I mean I managed to walk 500m or so and stop at a well positioned bench for some note-taking and biscuit consumption. A little while later Ezra and an unknown girl passed me by on a hike, and when they greeted me I pointed vaguely to a hillside bush where I had stumbled around aimlessly for a bit, as to prove my hiking expertise. I was in the Scouts I’ll have you know.

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This is what I was looking for.

Hiking-game repping aside, the location was truly beautiful. It was almost like a savannah, with the long grass rustling in the light wind and the vast expanse of nothingness stretching out for miles. All that existed was the accommodation buildings, the single road, and the grasslands. Mount Cook loomed in the distance, cloaked mysteriously in mist. Unfortunately, this was only a one night stop, so exploration opportunities were limited. I would to love return one day.

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Why is the colour brown always used for tourist signs?

Climbing into bed that night, I thought about the panic-stricken morning that had taken place. I realised that it wasn’t the burden of the problem itself that was digging at me – it was the anger at myself for having got into the situation . But then I thought some more, realised that was a stupid thought to have, decided to forgive myself for a change, and then wrote it all down because it’s actually a pretty funny story looking back.

I was indeed finding myself on this trip. And my passport.