I (almost) stayed in Australia

During my travels through New Zealand, I learned quickly that Americans have a stupid idea of "traveling." 

I received almost no support when I told family and friends that I was traveling solo. I even received backlash when I said I was traveling solo for a month. 

A whole month? What if you get robbed? What if you run out of money? Won’t you be lonely? You can’t trust anyone. You might get taken or raped. I don’t think you should go.
— A family friend, 12 hours before my flight to Auckland

First of all, I'm more likely to get hurt or robbed in Philadelphia (my workplace) than I would anywhere in New Zealand. It's probably the safest country in the world. Second, I have always been smart with my money. I choose to spend my money on traveling (and sometimes shopping when I'm sad). 

I have been working since middle school and have spent my money on a big trip almost every other year afterwards (Australia twice, Spain, California twice, Argentina, New Zealand). I even had enough money left over this time to buy myself a car when I got home.

Lindsay, Davis and I at Byron Bay in Australia.

Lindsay, Davis and I at Byron Bay in Australia.

At first, I thought a month was a long time away from home. But I knew I had to stay that long in order to truly experience the country and still go and visit my college friends, Lindsay and Davis, in Australia.

When I got to New Zealand, though, I didn't meet one person that was traveling for a month or less. Every backpacker I met was planning on traveling for three months, six months, a year, undetermined. Backpackers would feel bad for me because I'm American and most Americans have it in their heads that they can only travel for two weeks at a time. I was naive about traveling before this solo trip.

After a couple weeks in New Zealand and meeting so many people working and traveling around the country, I started thinking about what it would take to stay longer. The idea never became serious, though, until I met Viktor at a hostel on the South Island and started talking to Lindsay and Davis more about my work options in Australia. Viktor is an American that planned to travel around New Zealand for 5 weeks then spend a year in Australia to work. During  his time traveling around New Zealand, he decided he would probably just keep traveling through Asia and Antarctica for an extra year or two. He bought a one-way ticket so his options were unlimited. I, unfortunately, booked a flight home.

A couple days before I left for Australia I was video chatting my parents. I wanted to tell them my thoughts of me traveling a bit more, but I really wasn't sure how to bring it up or what their reactions might be. 

My mom then said, "So are you ready to come home yet?"

Well, now that you mention it....

After I told them about my plan, they laughed. Then they kinda got quiet. Then my dad left the screen. Then we hung up. 

To be honest, it wasn't the worst reaction I could imagine. 

Even though my parents helped pay for my trip, I received zero support from my mom after that conversation. I told her that Lindsay's restaurant (which pays about $30/hour on the weekends, not including tips) is looking for more waitresses, I would have a place to stay, I already had friends there, and I would probably stay for the summer then travel a bit more with the girls. 

My mother was not having it. Even after the 1,000 questions, she didn't give me an ounce of understanding. She just couldn't comprehend that I decided to change my plans. I can understand why she would have so many questions; she expected her only daughter to come home in a week and a half then finds out she might not come home for 6 months. She would have missed me like crazy.

To be honest, I did not handle it as sensitively as I should have. At one point, after days of no support and frustration, I finally said, "I'm not coming home."

I love you and know that you want this. I thought about it and I would want you to support any decision I make. Why shouldn’t I support yours? I would hate to be the person that stands between you and your dreams. If you do decide to stay longer I will be upset because I’m going to miss you and worry a lot. But what is life if you can’t live it the way you want to?
— My supportive boyfriend, Steven, after telling him I'd be traveling for 6 more months

I had 2 jobs lined up in Australia and I already talked to the travel agency from which I bought my tickets. It would cost me $200 plus the price difference. My boyfriend, Steve, was incredibly supportive. 

After a while, I was feeling guilty. I gave my mom a week's notice that I wasn't coming home for a few more months. That sounds a little immature of me, I know, but I'm my mom's life. She's my best friend. She loves to live vicariously through me, especially when I went to college and when I travel. Out of respect, I accepted her request to text her everyday and let her know what hostels I was staying at. She would even research the hostel and tell me things about it. One person I met called her a "Helicopter Mom." 

Ouch.

But really, it's just because she wanted to experience New Zealand with me.

I started telling Steve that I was thinking about just coming home. It would be much less complicated. For example, if I stayed, I wouldn't get any support from my parents which means I would feel guilty even asking them to send me things as simple as my birth control pills. I would also have to fly back to New Zealand, spend US$400 to get an Australian working visa, then come back to Australia. If I were allowed to apply for the Australian working visa in the country, it would have been so much easier. I just didn't feel like backpacking New Zealand again. Because I probably would have to wait a few days for my visa, I figured I could take that opportunity to see everything I couldn't get to the first time on the North Island. However, that just sounded exhausting. I was getting comfortable in Brisbane with the girls. 

Byron Bay with Davis, Nicole, Gibbons, Harry, Leroy, and Lindsay

Byron Bay with Davis, Nicole, Gibbons, Harry, Leroy, and Lindsay

I still wanted to do it, though. I wanted to work in Brisbane for 3 or 4 months then travel South East Asia with them for 3 months. I knew I would miss my family and my boyfriend, but I knew they'd always be there. Working and traveling more sounded like something I truly wanted. I was happy in Australia and I knew I would feel like I chickened out if I went home. Steve kept encouraging me to stay, though. He said he knew I'd regret it if I came home just because it would be "complicated" or "too hard."

#HesAKeeper

I knew I had to choose: Do I want to go home to the people who make me happy or do I want to do what makes me happy?

The morning I was flying back to Auckland in order to apply for my Australian working visa, I got an email from the travel agency from which I bought my Air New Zealand tickets. Previously, I told them I'd like to change my tickets to sometime in May. Because the agency was in the USA, the time change made conversing difficult. That morning, the email said that for me to change my tickets, it would cost between US$700-$900, which included fees, penalties, and the price difference. I was devastated. That along with the $400 working visa and flight back to Brisbane would put me out over $1,400 overnight. I decided I would just go to the airport and talk to Air New Zealand in Auckland directly.

Long story short, I decided to check my bags to Philadelphia. It was a really weird feeling. After talking to Air NZ and not getting anywhere, I knew that if I checked my bag in Auckland, I wouldn't see my belongings again until I landed in Philadelphia. There would be no going back.

I just stood there at the airport. On my left side was a line of cabs that could take me into the city where I could find a hostel, apply for my visa, and book a flight back to Brisbane. On my right side was Air New Zealand check-in that wouldn't take any more of my money if I simply checked my bag. 

It would have just been too much money to change my ticket. To get my Australian visa, I would have had to prove I had "sufficient funds." That means I would have to prove I had at least $5,000 in a bank account to keep me afloat if I couldn't find a job in Australia. After paying for my visa and flight change, I simply wouldn't have that money.

Lindsay said she didn't think they even checked her bank accounts. Viktor said he had his bank accounts checked but he had his parents lend him the money for a week then transferred it back into their accounts after he received his visa. I knew I couldn't ask my parents to do that. In no way would they proactively help me stay. 

I'm still feeling uneasy about my decision. I'm spending my days in Philadelphia writing, exercising, and networking in order to truly start my career. On the bright side, I'll be able to save and travel again. On the not-so-bright side, I might have a job that will deter me from doing so.

 

Cheers, everyone,

Shelly

TranzAlpine Train

The whole reason I went to Christchurch was to take the TranzAlpine Train across the middle of the south island. I didn't hear about this incredible train until I met Viktor (typical). 

Viktor and I got up early and had the YMCA Hostel call us a taxi to get to the rail station. When we made our reservations, we requested to be seated on the right side of the train. My mom, an avid TripAdvisor searcher, found a comment saying that if you sit on the right side of the train when going from Christchurch to Greymouth and the left side of the train when going the other way, you don't even have to leave your seat to get the best views. 

Let's just say, even though I took Mama Max's advice (thanks, Mom), I was on the windowless observation deck 60% of the time. 

(See why below)

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We passed a couple little "villages" that only had a few cottages like this one. This was the whole village excluding the small train station.

We passed a couple little "villages" that only had a few cottages like this one. This was the whole village excluding the small train station.

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The whole price of the TranzAlpine Train was about NZ$140. It is a bit pricey just for transportation. However, I've come to find that transportation, whether it's by bus or train, is also an excursion. The views you get by traveling on the ground in this country are incredible, especially on the south island.

Don't just fly. Take 2 short months out of your life and really experience New Zealand. Rent a car or campervan! Buy an Intercity Flexi Pass! Take the TranzAlpine Train! Anything that'll keep you on the ground while exploring.

 

Cheers,  

Shelly

Christchurch

Four years ago, Christchurch had an earthquake that destroyed most of the city. Today, you can still see the destruction. I stayed in the YMCA Hostel in Christchurch for only one night but just from walking to the grocery store and back, I could very much see how much the earthquake affected the city. 

There was so much construction and road detours going on. In addition, they had to quickly replace the damaged buildings. For example, after the quake, a cardboard church was created down the street from the damaged one. The new church was built to seat 700 people and is held up by a concrete foundation and cardboard tubes.  

I also passed a make-shift mall made out of cargo shipping boxes.  

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There isn't really much to see in Christchurch, to be honest. However, it was interesting to see how much an earthquake can affect a city 4 years later.

Viktor and I also made our first real meal in a hostel.  We had chicken, broccoli, and baked potatoes. Yum!

I went to bed early because my TranzAlpine train left early the next morning. It was beautiful so make sure you read my next post! 

 

Cheers, 

Shelly

Abel Tasman Coastal Track

I left early morning on Friday 10/9 to get a bus up to Marahau to start the trek. I left most of my stuff at the hostel (I was coming back in a few days) but I was able to pack everything I needed in my big backpack. Along with my clothes and food that would last me a few days, my tent and sleeping bag fit inside my backpack. I had to strap the sleeping mat to the outisde of my bag. I brought almost all of my warm clothes because I knew it was going to be cold at night. Each day I decided to wear 3/4 length leggings with a tank top and my chambray shirt to protect me from the sun and sandflies as much as possible.

Day 1 Trek to Bark Bay 

On the first day we walked 16 miles along the coast of the north part of the south island. We started our walk at around 9:45am and arrived at our campsite, Bark Bay, at 5:30pm. It was a gorgeous, but tough, hike. I was probably carrying about 35-40 pounds on my back. On the first day, there were a few big hills, but the trek was mainly up in the mountains; it didn't go down to sea level often. 

Cleopatra's Pool

Cleopatra's Pool

For lunch, we took a 20 minute detour to Cleopatra's Pool. It looked so pristine and untouched. Even though the Abel Tasman Coastal Trek is the most popular overnight trek in New Zealand, everyone here respects it so much. You won't find any trash cans along the way, for example, you have to take all your 'rubbish' with you. When we got to the pool, there were a bunch of high school boys playing in the water. The water was much too cold for me so I just watched and soaked my sore feet. The water flowed from upstream down a big rock face and made a slide right underneath. All the kids were going down it. I happily watched them play and shiver as I warmly ate my chicken and vegetable pie on a big rock.  

The rest of the trek was just as beautiful. There were these huge ferns that looked like palm trees that made the forest look like a tropical wilderness. A couple times we walked down to the beach and through caves to take a short, interesting detour break.

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We passed a town that, I'm pretty sure, is impossible to get to without a boat at high tide. I have never seen tides so dramatic than at Nelson and Abel Tasman. When the tide goes out, you can just see tens of boats standed on the water, anchors still down.  It looks like a desert with big puddles here and there. You can't even see the ocean or bay.

Example of the extreme tides of Abel Tasman coastline

Example of the extreme tides of Abel Tasman coastline

Andy and I finally arrived to Bark Bay and I immediately spotted where I was going to set up my tent. It was right next to the beach, overlooking the water. I knew that it would be the perfect position to watch the sun rise over the water the next morning. With just a little help, I put up my tent and organized myself. I changed out of my sweaty clothes and put on comfy, warm ones. The sandflies in the south island are awful and they only get worse the more south you go along the west coast. I had my ankles exposed for no longer than 7 seconds and they were torn up by the sandflies. Sandflies look like big gnats that just surround you. Before I left, I bought a can of Bushman insect/sandfly repellent--it really works! Once I sprayed that on my skin and clothes, you'd see the sandflies fly around you but never actually land on your skin. There was also a few sandflies that got in my tent and congregated into one corner. Before bed I sprayed them and was delighted to watch them die. Sorry, that was morbid. 

There was a dutch couple at our campsite as well as the group of boys from Cleopatra's Pool. The boys were on the trek participating in Duke of Edinburgh. Apparently, it's this program that started in the UK that looks great on a resume because it shows you can commit to something and be very resourceful. Basically, you just go on all of these outdoorsy adventures and gain degrees (bronze, silver, gold) and some important person from the UK presents your metal to you after you complete a certain number of tasks. The boys were great because they were excited to make a fire for the whole campsite. We all huddled around the campfire for a bit once it got dark before bed. 

 

Day 2 Trek to Totaranui

The night was quite cold and quite uncomfortable. The inside of my tent was damp from the dew and I didn't have much of a pillow, but I was proud I did it. I got up the next morning around 6:30am to watch the sunrise. Then, I had some apple and peanut butter for breakfast, filled up my water bottles with the treated water, and packed up all of my stuff for the next leg of my trek.

View of the sunrise over the bay from my tent.

View of the sunrise over the bay from my tent.

Andy slept in his hammock which was much more comfortable than the ground. I was thinking about getting one but a hammock would have been much more expensive than the gear I bought.  

Brave dutch couple who took a morning dip.

Brave dutch couple who took a morning dip.

A few parts of my hike on day 2 wad walking along the sandy shorelines. Of course I had to take off my boots and stretch out my sore feet.

A few parts of my hike on day 2 wad walking along the sandy shorelines. Of course I had to take off my boots and stretch out my sore feet.

On day 2, Andy and I walked another 16 miles to Totaranui. This trek was much more diverse and steep. For a bit we walked along or on the beach then we would hike up the mountains and walk along the cliff looking over the ocean. Then, of course, we'd make more treks down to the beach and up in the mountains again. It would have been a moderate trek without a 40 lb backpack, but I wasn't used to carrying so much weight. Even though it was tough, we kept a good pace. 

We hit the Awaroa Inlet about half way to our destination. We approahed a sign that said "Lodge and Cafe This Way." What?!? We are in the wilderness. Granted, it would have taken us about an hour out of our way which we couldn't risk. You want to make sure you get to the campsite much before sunset. Actually, 6:30pm is a great time to arrive because it's still light out and there aren't many sandflies left at that time.  

The Awaroa Inlet is one of the most important crossings you have to time and plan correctly. There are only about 3.5 hours during the day where it is safe to cross because it is very low tide. We got there in plenty of time and decided to take a break. Andy and I grabbed a snack and took a mini nap on the dry sand that only hours before was the sea shore. 

Usually, I hate sand. But at this point, I was just so dirty and sweaty that it didn't even matter if I or any of my things got more dirty.  

Crystal clear waters of New Zealand

Crystal clear waters of New Zealand

dried up shark friend

dried up shark friend

Through the inlet we had to cross pools of water flowing out to sea that came up to our knees. My water shoes might have come in handy at this point because there were so many shells and crabs at our feet. It took us about 45 minutes to cross the inlet and dry ourselves off.

We walked a bit more and when we hit one of our last beach stretches of the day, Andy and I decided to look for mussels since it was low tide. We found 10 or 12 and carried them to our next campsite, Totaranui, where we could let them soak in fresh water for a couple hours. 

Andy and I set up our site and had some dinner. Hummus, peanut butter and crackers for me! Then later that night the boys from Duke of Edinburgh and Andy got lots of driftwood from the beach (and two huge logs for us to sit on) and made a fire. We placed the mussels on a 2x4 over the fire to cook them. Some we just put in the embers. The ones that opened we ate and they were delicious! They also had a smokey flavor that you don't normally find.  

Day 3 Lazy Beach Day 

On day 3 I had my water taxi booked to take me from Totaranui back to Marahau at 3:15pm. We were planning on doing a small loop trek but I had a couple blisters and we were more in the mood for a beach day. After watching the sunrise, I lie on the beach all day. It was glorious. 

The Dutch couple joined us. The girl had an internship in Hamilton (which she advised me not to go to because it's so boring) and her boyfriend was visiting for a few weeks. 

Andy was planning to just hike a bit further that day and hitchhike down the coast but we could see very few roads on the map. He decided to go on the water taxi instead.  Our water taxi showed up and took us around to some seal colonies. 

seal!

seal!

It was such service! Our water taxi driver pulled right up to shore on the trailer of a tractor then got off the boat and drove the tractor, with us still in the boat attached, all the way up to a cafe in town. I was craving so many different kinds of foods so I bought sea salt and vinegar chips and a Snickers bar.   

We got the bus back to Nelson and it dropped me right off at Paradiso, my hostel. Andy got dropped off in town so he could get a Burger King burger, which he was craving.

That night I met Viktor. We found out we were flying out of Queenstown the same day. I really didn't plan my route (I've rarely planned things on this trip) but Viktor had basically the next couple weeks all planned day by day. I wrote down his route and decided to go for it. I figured, I only have a short amount of time left and I want to see so much. By this point, I'm going to have to plan a little bit (or, at least, let Viktor plan for me). Thanks, V! 

 

Cheers, 

Shelly