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Photographs of New Zealand’s South Island

It’s been a while since we’ve been able to upload any photos of our trip. In fact, this is the first time since we arrived on the South Island back at the start of November.

But, as promised in a couple of more recent posts, here are Steph’s photographs from our journeys on the south side of the Cook Strait.

These photos cover our trip from Abel Tasman National Park in the north, down to Wanaka, Queenstown and Fiordland in the south.

On Tuesday 29 December we head out on the second of our Great Walks, along the Milford Track. We’ll add photos from that walk and our wander along the Routeburn Track soon(ish).

Wanaka and back again: A holidaymaker’s tale

So folks, here’s a not so quick update on what we’ve been doing recently.

We’ve been staying mainly in the Wanaka/Queenstown area, we’ve basked in scorching summer heat, had entire days washed out with torrential rain, walked in countryside that took our breath away, hiked small hills taller than Mount Snowdon, witnessed the beauty of the Milford and Doubtless Sounds, flown around the Southern Alps, thankfully avoided New Zealand’s third strongest Earthquake and started applying for jobs.

So it’s been pretty quiet really.

First off we took a trip out of Wanaka to walk the Rob Roy Glacier Track, which was just maddeningly picturesque. Driving through nine fords on one of New Zealand’s seemingly infinite unsealed roads, surrounded by mountains was incredible enough, but the walk was utterly gobsmacking. 

The drive was soundtracked by Godspeed You Black Emperor – particularly well suited to our surroundings was the track Pleasantry Or Light Inside Of Light – and those of you that know that band will get a fair idea of the scale of the scenery from that.

The walk, our first real bit of walking since we got here, was glorious and at the top we were greeted by waterfalls and a glacier sitting on top of a quite majestic wall of rock.


While visiting Queenstown we took a jet boat ride up Skippers Canyon, which was great fun. Travelling at about 80kph, on just 6 inches of water, doing power slides and 360s, skimming close to the canyon walls, it was hugely impressive to see the control that the guys steering the boat had.


If that wasn’t white knuckle enough then taking a bus ride along what we were told was one of the top three most dangerous roads on the planet to get there and back would have done it for most people. The road was built in the late 1800s when the goldrush came to New Zealand, and not much has changed about it since. A really, really enjoyable afternoon that.

That night, a huge earthquake struck Kaikoura. We were completely oblivious to it in our Queenstown campsite, about 500km away from the east coast. Sleeping through, we felt nothing, as did everyone else in this part of the country. The first we knew about it was at 6am when we woke up to see countless messages from family and friends asking if we were ok. 

The day took on a strange and slightly solemn atmosphere of empathy and concern from then, as is the way with these sorts of disasters. While two people died in the quake, it’s a testament to New Zealand’s preparedness and processes that casualties from the quake and potential tsunamis were not higher than that. It’s just sad that while Christchurch is still recovering from its own earthquake just a few years ago, Canterbury has yet more destruction to content with.

If the earthquake reminded us all of the earth’s unstoppable power to destroy, our trip to Milford and Doubtless Sound showed its equal ability to create unparalleled beauty.

The previous day we had intended to go to take a trip over to Glenorchy, another beautiful spot the opposite side of Queenstown, but torrential rain got the better our plans and after one very wet drive and a stay overnight in a pub car park, we headed to Milford Sound in search of some better weather.


The drive down the Milford Road was sensational, despite the heavy rain showers. The breaks in the cloud provided tantalising glimpses of the monstrous mountains flanking our passage coast wards. 

Meanwhile the Kea, the world’s only alpine parrot, kept us entertained during our lunch break, desperately meowing outside our van, imploring us to feed them.

At the end of the road, we were blessed with sunny intervals and the glorious sight of Milford Sound unveiled itself to us. We’ll be back here again during our Milford Track hike, but it was wonderful to see it in decent weather.

The next day we took a boat trip down the nearby Doubtless Sound. In what is becoming something of a theme on this trip, I was lost for words, just gawping at the scenery with amazement, like some kind of hypnotised goldfish.


From there we headed black to Wanaka, a small town that we have sort of fallen a bit in love with. So much so we’ve applied for jobs there and are seriously considering of basing ourselves here for the rest of our time in New Zealand.

With such treats like Mount Aspiring National Park, the Fiordlands and Queenstown on the doorstep, and all the hiking and skiing you could hope for, why would we want to be anywhere else?

We’ll see what happens, but between the Rob Roy Glacier Track, hiking up Roy’s Peak (500m taller than Snowdon) and taking a scenic flight around Mount Aspiring, we’ve had a pretty good introduction to the town. 

Photos of the views from Roy’s Peak and our flight are below.



As usual, we’ll try and upload Steph’s photos of the things mentioned in this blog soon.

We start our three day hike along the Routeburn Track on Wednesday 23 November, shortly followed by four days on the Milford Track so we’ll probably be in touch again in very early December. Providing we don’t drown in the absolutely appalling rain that is forecast for our walks.

It’s just like being at home.

Heading south

Since our last update, we’ve made the short ferry trip across the Cook Strait and onto the South Island. 

It has been a real treat so far, with this part of New Zealand much more impressive and inspiring than the North.

We have explored part of the Marlborough Sounds on a mail boat, hiked in beautiful mountain valleys, spent an afternoon kayaking, gazed in awe at magestic peaks and been driven halfway to insanity by the unholy horror that is the sandfly.

This vile creature is native to New Zealand and so, sadly, the Department of Conservation will not kill them all. Instead, I have made it my mission to do so.

The Maori used to believe that sandflies were created to prevent people from just stopping and staring at New Zealand’s landscapes, the biting flies forcing them to keep moving. Sounds about right, and is especially true at Lake Matheson where they relentlessly savaged us for having the audacity to look at Mounts Tasman and Cook for more than ten seconds.


In fact, speaking of Captain James Cook, he wasn’t too pleased with the sandflies either. In 1773 he was in Dusky Sound and they were clearly as infuriating then as they are now. He said, “The most mischievous animal here is the small black sandfly, which are exceedingly numerous, wherever they light they cause a swelling and such intolerable itching that it is not possible to refrain from scratching and at last ends in ulcers like the small pox.”
They are scum, ankle devouring scum.

Happily we have managed to find some brief periods of peace, usually at higher altitudes.

One such place was Arthur’s Pass. This sensational mountain road cuts across the South Island, from Greymouth to Christchurch and provides some stunning views and relatively short, tiring and enjoyable hiking in and around ski villages, deserted at this time of year.


With the weather on the west coast less than ideal, we took a detour through this part of the country and it proved to be the highlight of the trip up to that point. Prior to that we had taken sunny trips through the Pelorus Sound in Marlborough and hiking and kayaking in Abel Tasman.


More recently, we’ve visited the Franz Joesef and Fox glaciers. Steph had seen them before during her last trip to New Zealand in 2009, but the rate at which they had retreated even since then was shocking. The impact of global warming made truly tangible, compounded by that being the very same day the United States of America elected a climate change denier as it’s leader.


At the moment we’re in Wanaka, about an hour north of Queenstown. Hopefully tomorrow we’ll do a bit of walking in the Mount Aspiring National Park, weather permitting. 


After that, we’ve got about ten days until we take on the Routeburn and Milford tracks, so we’ll be preparing for those and keeping everything crossed in the hope that the changeable Spring weather and wet fiordland climate look favourably on us.

In the meantime, we’ve stocked up on insect repellent and will endeavour to survive the sandfly onslaught. Apparently they’re even worse in Milford Sound!

Turrah for now. We’ll upload some proper photos when we have good enough wifi. 

Photographs of New Zealand’s North Island

As promised in our previous blog entry, here are some of Steph’s favourite photographs from our trip around the North Island.

We’ll upload a similar batch when we finish our journey around the South Island and Steph has had a chance to go through her snaps.

Currently, we’re in a campsite in Greymouth on the west coast, having spent the last few days in the Marlborough Sounds and Abel Tasman National Park.

Hope you enjoy the images.

Our first week

Monday 31 October marked the end of our first week on the road.

So far we’ve travelled from Auckland, up to the very north top of New Zealand, back down again, over to the Coromandel Peninsula and from there into the central part of the North Island.

We’ve travelled all this in our rental camper. Initially we planned to buy one but turns out there no real value in doing that, in Auckland at least, but we’ll talk more about that in a later blog.

Anyway, the van is not quite our usual style but we’ve grown to love it and the snake artwork has inspired a name for the van. We’re calling him Severus, after Severus Snape in the Harry Potter books. That’s Sev for short.

On Monday evening the three of us – Steph, Steve and Sev – reached our campsite for the evening, not far outside Tongariro National Park.

We had hoped to walk the Tongariro Pass on Tuesday, but the weather on the mountains is not great at the moment and we’ve decided that it’s something we’ll have to come back for another time. Instead we’re now ahead of schedule and will be making our way to Mount Taranaki, then on to Wellington to get the ferry to the South Island.

Monday 31 October was a day of Lord of the Rings and Hobbit adventures.

We started with a tour of Hobbiton, the set of Peter Jackson’s incredible Lord of the Rings trilogy, and his slightly less credible but still enjoyable Hobbit films.

From there we made our way to Tongariro, which is home to a couple of large volcanoes, one of which was used as Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings. Suitably, we had beautiful weather this morning in The Shire then it got grey, cold and grim the closer we got to Mordor. It’s was all quite easy really. I don’t know what Frodo made all that fuss about.

It’s been a while since we had chance to tell you about our trip, so here’s a few notes about what we’ve done over the last few days.

You can see images from our trip around the North Island in a later blog.

You can follow us on Twitter for day-to-day updates and some low quality, badly composed photos from my iPhone.

Monday 24 October

We picked up the van from Escape Rentals in Auckland and made our way north, stopping at our first campsite in Shakespear Point.

Most of the day was taken up with food shopping and other dull things like that – the Warehouse and Pak’n’Save are the only things that will stop to going bankrupt in this very expensive country – but we ended up in a lovely spot, yards for the beach and surrounded by weird wildlife like the Tui bird, which sounds like a dial up modem, and some sort of giant moorhen.

Tuesday 25 October

We began our journey north, towards the Bay of Islands. On the way we called in on Bill Meeklah, he’s the younger brother of one of Steve’s dearest friends and has been living out here for almost a year. It was great to see a familiar face and catch up.

We arrived at our campsite in the evening, the best site of the trip so far, with lovely views over a calm bay and unlimited free WiFi – which we have since learnt is a rare and beautiful thing. We relaxed with chilled beers and the first of Steph’s many delicious campervan kitchen miracle meals.

Wednesday 26 October

Our first day of properly exploring, we visited Russell, the site of the first British settlement on the island and the place where our imperial forebears engaged in some typically duplicitous shenanigans with regard to the local Maoris and their land.
Putting the guilt of empire to the back of our minds, we enjoyed waking along the incredible coastline and driving along hillside tracks.

We returned to the campsite after a long day, before heading further north in the morning.

Thursday 27 October

On Thursday, we travelled towards the very north tip of New Zealand, where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean meet.

The drive that felt like it lasted a lifetime, although the breaks to see sights like the misleadingly monikered 90 Mile Beach, helped break up the monotony. The Northlands as they call it are beautiful and remote but it feels never ending and lonely at times.

We arrived late at another beachside campsite, grabbed a beer each in what has become something of an evening ritual now, ate dinner and fell asleep listening to podcasts.

Friday 28 October

First thing Friday we made the short trip to the end of the world, looking out over the open ocean from the tip of New Zealand really emphasises just how far away from everything this place is.

It was quite calming really. Away from the troubles of the world, the insanity of Donald Trump, the relentlessness of everyday life and the crushing inevitably of Sunderland Association Football Clubs’s inexorable march towards relegation. If only every day could be like that.

After that, we had only one way to go, South. We headed back down country, stopping at giant sand dunes and New Zealand’s largest tree, towards Auckland once more.

Saturday 29 October

Saturday was a travelling day.

Leaving our campsite – a quiet place at this time year run by a couple from Yorkshire – in the waipoua forest, our destination was the Coromandel Peninsula.

We’d both just about had our fill of stunning coastline by this point, so we didn’t stay long. Winding our way up mountain roads, avoiding the participants of a cycle race, a quick stay overnight at Catherdral Cove for a walk and some photos in the morning and that would be it. We were ready for green fields and mountains.

Sunday 30 October

As we drove south, past Rotorua, we visited Wai-o-tapu, one of many areas of volcanic activity in the region.

It’s beautiful, but it absolutely stinks. You’d think after a week in and van together, eating a mainly vegetarian diet, we’d be used to all pervading sulphuric smells, but we weren’t prepared for this.

That night we stayed in a campsite with its own hot spring pools. We also met a woman named Zara who was cycling the length in New Zealand on her own. Turned out she grew up round the corner from Steph in Leeds and they went to the same school in Harrogate!

Anyway, that’s all from us for now. See you soon.

Tahiti: welcome to paradise

When we booked our trip to New Zealand, we weren’t particularly interested in going through the usual stop offs in Asia.

The idea of spending time in large cities like Singapore didn’t really appeal, so we asked about alternative routes.

Talking with Ben from STA Travel in Bristol back in January, we asked about the Pacific islands. The airlines STA worked with fly through Tahiti so after a quick google search, we decided it looked pretty incredible and chose to stop there on the way to NZ.

Neither of us are massive beach fans and the idea of slow paced holidays in typical paradisal locations hasn’t really grabbed us before – we’re more of a stunning scenery, getting out and exploring a place kind of tourist – but we thought we’d need a break after 23 hours of travel from Paris.

Tahiti was magnificent. It was everything we needed and has changed our view of the kind of holidays you can have in these locations.

Tahiti is quite honestly one of the most beautiful, relaxed, friendly places we have been.

It’s got everything. Volcanoes, lagoons, both golden and black sand beaches, indescribably stunning mountain valleys, thick forest that looks like jungle, pine trees, air perfumed with tropical flowers, sun, warm and welcoming people, thunderous rain, endless amounts of wandering chickens, excellent French cheeses, delicious mangoes, seriously special sea life…

There’s plenty to get out and see, so we endeavoured to see what we could in our few days there.

Day one

Arrived around 11pm on flight from Paris. Picked up from the airport by Marie-Hélène, our AirBnB host.

Shout out to US Immigration at LAX who have made it their life’s work to make every single person who passes through that airport feel more stress than humans have ever previously thought possible, while treating each visitor with suspicion and disdain.

Day two

3.30am. Woken by Global Cockerel Conference seminar discussing most inappropriate time to wake people up.

Marie prepared us a wonderful breakfast of mangoes, grapefruit, papaya, yoghurt, cheeses, bread and coffee. A continental start to the day with a tropical twist.

Headed to the beach at the bottom of Marie’s garden. Reasonable view. Spent most of the day snorkelling, looking at the dazzling local fish.

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Day three

One of the absolute highlights of the year. Marie invited us on a whale watching trip with her friends. Another early start – everyone is up and off to work by 5am – for a quick trip over to the island of Moorea (Jurassic Park) where we would spend about four hours in the Pacific Ocean seeing dolphins, flying fish, sharks, stingrays and humpback whales.

Our tour found a mother and calf humpback. Tahiti is one of the few places where whale watchers can get in the water and observe the whales up close. With me being unable to swim, it was left to Steph to enjoy this spectacle with the rest of the group, something she describes as, “eerily majestic” and “truly amazing”. Seeing the whales from the boat felt much the same, quite moving even – although that may just have been the swell turning my stomach – so underwater and close up must have been wondrous.

After the whale watching Marie and her friend took us on a tour of Moorea, which to be quite honest we both thought was even more beautiful than Tahiti.

The day ended with a couple of beers on the beach at sunset.

It’s a day neither of us will forget in a hurry.

Day four

A quiet and solemn day during which I turned 30 and we rented a car for a tour around Tahiti – still incredibly beautiful – using the island’s one road.

Day ended with beers in the pool.

Day five

Our final day in Tahiti. We had booked a tour of the mountainous centre of the island with Teiva at Tahiti Discovery. Teiva is a native Tahitian whose family own the land we would but visiting. He lived and hunted there as a boy with his grandad.

Setting off at 8.15am in his Land Rover Defender, we turned off the road on the east coast of the island and climes up through the Papenoo Valley.

Teiva stopped every now and then to explain how his grandfather would use a silver fern to help guide their way home during a night hunt, the reflective underside of the leaf that gives the plant its name pointing their way through the forest when torchlight fell upon it. We also heard how his grandfather would use the “Tahitian telephone” to call him, hitting a chestnut tree with a rock, the sound of which echoed around the valley for miles.

The scenery was unbelievable. Green peaks encircled by the 90km ring of the dormant volcano that helped to form Tahiti. It hasn’t erupted in about 1 million years, but we learnt of another destructive force that threatens Teivia’s land.

A group of investors are trying to buy the land from his family so they can build a 5-star resort there, paving the roads and cutting the top off a mountain to construct a restaurant with 360 degree views. The investors have visited some elderly members of Teiva’s family with suitcases full of Tahitian Francs in what sounds like a textbook Hollywood bad guy attempt to get control of the land. So far the family are standing firm, but it would be absolutely tragic for the island, for Teiva, his family and future travellers if they were to lose their piece of paradise.

We hope the developers are unsuccessful so this beautiful island is preserved for future travellers.

We’re here

We made it. This afternoon we touched down in Auckland after travelling from London to Paris, then to Tahiti.

So greetings from the future.
You’ll all be relieved to hear that Donald Trump is not yet in power and everything is still fine. Although I am 30 now, which is possibly more scary than the prospect of Donald Trump having the nuclear codes. Everything is going to be fine.

Steph is just going through her photos from Tahiti, so we’ll upload some of those in the next few days in a blog about our time in French Polynesia. It’s paradise, a total paradise. Just incredible. So beautiful. Check out some of our posts on Twitter for a little summary of what we got up to.

Tomorrow we’re off to do the boring but important jobs of opening our bank accounts, getting national insurance numbers and tax codes. Look out for the live tweets and our Periscope stream of that. It’ll be worth staying up for.

On Saturday we are heading to a car fair to try and find a campervan, then in the evening we’re off to Eden Park to watch the All Blacks play Australia. 

Yep, my first few days in New Zealand and I’m already realising a dream I’ve had for most of my life: watching the All Blacks playing rugby in New Zealand. As 30th birthday presents go, that’s a pretty incredible one.

We’re off out to find some beers and dinner now.

We’ll post again soon.

We’re going on an adventure

Hello.

We’re Stephen Milnes and Stephanie Maskery.

Suffering from a quarter-life crisis, we quit our jobs in 2016. We left our home in Bristol (UK) and packed our bags for a twelve month antipodean adventure.

Because nobody has done that before…

So, tally up two more sheep for New Zealand’s ovine population.

Why we are going

We’re both in our late 20’s. I (Steve) turn 30 while we’re away, and we think that if we don’t do something slightly irresponsible, potentially stupid and very exciting now, then we’ll never have chance to do it at all.

We’re doing nothing original, we’re going to do a thing that countless people have already done. In fact since Brexit record numbers of Brits are considering a move to New Zealand.

We’ve been planning this since Easter 2015. We’re not going to find ourselves. We know who we are, we’ve got careers we enjoy, we can see where our lives are going – and that’s exactly what we want to avoid, or at least postpone.

Some people take comfort in grand life plans. For us, seeing our lives inexorably mapped out in front of us feels trapping.

We’re just two people running away from the pragmatic reality of what we probably should be doing, hoping a change can bring us something we’ll always remember.

Keeping in touch

One drawback of escaping to the other side of the planet is that we leave behind all our friends and family, and apparently some of them might miss us.

As we’re achingly middle class and work in media, we decided it’d be nice to catalogue our journey in some way so that family and friends can share in the things we see and do.

We’ll be blogging and podcasting as we travel around New Zealand. Reviewing and chatting about accommodation and activities, articulating thoughts during long rainy days inside our campervan, sharing photos and creating a library of whatever other rubbish we think other people might find interesting or useful.

Now, racked by our instinctive cynicism and good old British self-loathing, we despise the millennial cliché we have become yet simultaneously feel compelled to share it in this world of increasingly saccharine, narcissistic, loud-speaker communication.

If you must, you can follow our trip through our blog, our podcast and Twitter. Or don’t. Whatever.