The plane from Singapore touched down in Darwin airport, north Australia. A warm, night breeze welcomed us to this new continent. Couple of hours later we got on board the next plane and about 9am we landed in the east coast town of Cairns. Following a pain in the ass passport check out, we left the airport kind of frustrated.
Beautiful sunshine, clear skies.. From the first few hours it felt like another world comparing to Asia; different buildings, different roads and of course different people. We felt quite uncomfortable walking around Cairns. People were kind of weird and did not look as friendly. It reminded me my first months in UK at Gillingham, Kent where I had experienced some really difficult times there as a first year student. We had a stroll around to find a place to stay and realised that unlike Asia, our money here had not as much value. We stayed at one of the worst places in town and paid the same amount we would have paid for at least a 4-star in Asia (well not including Singapore that is). We went to enquiry for the coral reef dive and the prices sounded astronomical to our ears. The difference in cost of living was huge and I would advise anyone who considers doing Asia and Australia back to back to start from the latter one and finish in the cheap, rather than the shocking opposite.
I went to meet Irene, my lovely ex-flatmate from the flat at Shad Thames. I joined her at a friend's birthday party in a nice French restaurant in Darlinghurst. I met some cool people there and realised not all Aussies are like those from Cairns.
I visited Environ's Australian head office. I met some really nice people there. They were waiting for me over their Easter tea. I had few talks with some people from the carbon and energy department and then we all went out for lunch. A nice meeting, and the last of this trip. I posted the suit and shoes back home on the same day.
The next couple of days, we explored the city, as much as we could of it. Sydney is the most populous city in Australia. It was first established as a penal colony by the British, sending here those Brits who were not as legitimate as the rest. :) It was established around the late 1700's, Sydney was the first city in Australia. Today it ranks among the top 10 most liveable cities in the world. It is also considered as one of the top global fashion capitals.
We also visited -twice- the Sydney's Opera House. Twice because the Rocks is a nice area to walk around and the second time, we arrived from the Botanic Gardens, just at the opposite. The Opera House is a World Heritage site since 2007. As Wikipedia says, it is one of 20th century´s most distinctive buildings in the world. It is an emblem building for the city, if not for the whole of Australia. Indeed it is a masterpiece of a building, with its shells looking-like design but also its great location. We did not enter inside as there was nothing to attend at that time of the day, but walked all around it, and along with hordes of other tourists, took many many photographs.
We met with Irene again and had a long coffee at the Darling Harbour while she was telling us some of her exciting new plans. In the night, we met with some other friends of hers and went out for some really nice Thai food. Most of them musicians, we went in one of their house/studio with many instruments lying messy around. Irene's friend Ambre played some amazing piano for us. We left speechless with the fluency she was playing classical pieces, with her eyes closed(!). She was a really cool young mum, she gave us her new CD (Oblivion) and we were really lucky to listen to an acclaimed artist like her. I feel the need to do my little bit and promote her work through here. Check out the link below and listen to some splendid music.
After few sunny days in Sydney, we took a bus and went to Melbourne. The weather turned colder and the skies grey. We stayed at South Yarra area. I felt that Melbourne was a little more lively than Sydney and despite the temperature difference we had good time. They say here it is the biggest Greek city outside Greece. Many Greeks flew here for a better future in the 50's and 60's and today someone can sense the impact they had in Melbourne. Many Greek restaurants, Greek coffee shops offering food and sweets just like back home. For months now we were dreaming the food in Melbourne. And indeed we had some really nice souvlakis, not exactly like home but still very close. We overlooked the holy's week fasting with the excuse of the need for some 'hommie' food.
All in all these were our days in Australia. Our original plan to stay three weeks and travel with land arrangements from Cairns to Melbourne, was changed and finally became 10 days with a flight from Cairns to Sydney. It was not only because of the costs but also that we wanted something more adventurous, more primitive or something a bit more cultural. And to experience all these in Australia you need time and lots of money and in fact we had none of them.
Melbourne_Greek orthodox community centre
Flying over the Tasman Sea
So we had a farewell to Melbourne quite happily and got on a plane to our next destination Aotearoa a.k.a New Zealand. We landed in devastated by earthquakes Christchurch and stayed two rainy days. Our plan was to get a campervan here and tour the amazing south island, along with Polly who would meet in Queenstown. Then cross to the north island and drive until Auckland to take our next flight; all these in two weeks. So we did! We rented a green Jucy condo campervan, fully equiped with sleeping and cooking facilities for four people, obtained the relevant Lonely Planet guide and maps and started driving...
This was the country that broke the mould. Soaring mountains punctuated by snow-capped peaks, beautiful lakes and valleys that blend seamlessly into the sky and a Kiwi population who are genuinely glad to see you. This stunning corner of the Earth offers landscapes so epic that we had to rub our eyes to believe it!
Maps and guides at hand
We started by getting used to the fact we had wheels, and not just two, but this time four and a studio flat on top of it. Pretty bulky and a bit of unstable at bends but still felt a good drive with a reliable engine. The condo had everything; table, re-tractable beds, kitchen, gas cooker, fridge even a small portable toilet, all very ergonomically and functionally located within it. The only down point, speakers only at the back, not at front doors. Anyhow, this would be our home for the next few days, fantastic!
Jucy Lucy's portable home
We left Christchurch by midday on a rainy day to reach lake Tekapo by night. By the time we entered the mountains it was already dark and we could hardly see what we could sensationally smell when we had our windows open. Temperature was almost to freezing, inhaling thin, full of clean oxygen, air into our lungs. We couldn't see much where exactly parked in the campsite, it was dark and only very few other vans around. As soon as we settled, a big round full moon rised over the surrounding hills, sparing its twilight to the landscape. The wind and freezing cold suddenly faded away when I had just pressed Play to listen the album I have always dreamt listening into this land. (Paddy Free with Richard Nunns - Karekare: Te Reo o Te Whenua). It was a magic moment, deep printed into my mind to recall for the years to come.
Share the road
Even if you are on your own
Amazing landscapes on Highway 8
Fluffy clouds so close
New Zealand's typical flora
And more fauna
Majestic views from the shores of Tekapo
Woke up to an amazing open plain campsite and started driving. Only 5kms after, we stopped to stare at the turquoise of lake Tekapo and the white peaks of the nearby Mt.Cook. We couldn't believe the beauty of this place and how peaceful everything was. At its southern end of the lake, a little village has population of 315. We had to continue driving and after through some more amazing landscape around Twizel we reached lake Wakatipu and our stop over, Queenstown.
Surrounded by the heights of the Remarkables and the large turquoise lake Wakatipu, charming Queenstown claims itself as the 'global adventure capital'. Exciting and thrilling activities of any kind are available here, including ziplines, bungees, skydiving etc etc. We opted for some DIY trekking (and not the lift) up to the Bob's peak overlooking Queenstown. We had some breathtaking views from up there, stunned from the beauty of this place. We stayed at a nice campsite, with full service, nice clean toilets, plugin electricity and wifi. We met Polly who was already touring the north island and had an amazing kiwi burger and few beers at the pub.
Wakatipu lake (and a bit of Queenstown)
What a dawn that was
Heading to the Milford Sound
Milford Sound_Mitre peak
Milford Sound_Sea kayakers
Milford Sound_Local resident
Milford Sound_The Stirling waterfall
Milford Sound_Fjords and Mitre peak
Beautiful turquoise river
Our Dutch campervan friends
We had a long day driving, with Polly now also assisting on the driving, we passed through picturesque Arrowtown and beautiful Wanaka while gazing mount Aspiring from far. The Haast pass was another thrilling drive just before coming across the Tasman Sea. A remote end-of-the road feel on the Westland, it was maybe the most beautiful drive I ever had in my life. With the Southern Alps close by and wild Tasman Sea on the other, the sculptured trees and beaches on the other we couldn't fully believe it. We really had a full display of cinematic landscapes...
On Highway 94
Polly on the drive
West coast on Highway 6
One of the most beautiful roads in the world (Highway 6)
We wanted to see the glaciers as we heard Franz Josef was another remarkable site to see in south NZ. My friend Tseke had told me he was astounded by the beauty of this moving massive ice cube. We parked our home and walked to the glacier. We reached a nice viewpoint and had a good glance of this constantly emerging ice field. The valley of the glacier was open and wide with precaution signs reminding the dangers of walking around in such environments. Bright day, we took photos and continued to the north.
Franz Josef_The valley to the glacier
Franz Josef_Closer up
Franz Josef_Layers and layers
Somewhere in New Zealand
Westport and Nelson were our next stopovers. We explored the surrounding area and put down plans for our wine tasting excursion. The Marlborough region is famous for its vineyards and good quality 'new world' wine. Wineries offer tasting experiences in settings surrounded by vine trees and wine farms. Grasped the opportunity of the lovely sunshine, we hired bikes and cycled to the wineries. Had so much fun hoping into one after the other, tasting Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir while learning about wine making and variety characteristics. Of course we got tipsy and started acting like kids. It was good fun, good day. We also visited a nice beer brewery where Polly surprisingly met her school friend from home working there! Funny meetings! We invited her for a camper van bbq night! :)
Vineyards around Blenheim
Following the wine trail
Wine tasting display
Spit it, don't drink it!
At your service :)
Crossing the Cook strait between south and north island was not an easy sail, considering we still felt dizzy from the wine. We left the south lighthouse behind and we were out in the open, at the intersection of the South Pacific and the Tasman Sea. Massive waves and angry weather. Many people got sick and I tried to remain calm trying to think all is good, it is a usual day for the captain. Indeed, captains crossing the Cook strait must have special training and certification to do this trip. Mother Nature did us the favour and we arrived all well in Wellington.
Heading to the north island
South island´s last point
A quick stop in to Wellington included a lunch at a nice funky bistro and a visit to the Te Papa Tongarewa, the museum of New Zealand. We've seen more of the history of this nation, learned more about the Maori art and culture and interacted in some interesting sections of the museum.
Wellington_Maori carve (1)
Wellington_Maori carve (2)
Wellington_What a place on earth
From Wellington we drove to Auckland, briefly stoping at some villages en route. That was a long drive but we managed to share the driving distance between us and arrived in Auckland a day in advance to relax. Found a campsite next to the beach and had a stroll at the bay. Had our last campervan meal and next day went to the airport to return Jucy Lucy back. :( From there eleven and a half hours flight over the Pacific would take us in Santiago de Chile, Latin America.
Auckland_By the beach
New Zealand was the little country of wonders for us. So much beauty and blissful mountains and valleys, concentrated in such a small area in the world. With a population of 4.4million, it is one of the least populated nations in the world. Kiwis are proud about their country but they don't show off. They are genuinely welcome you to 'the Paradise'!
And for those who think Maori culture is dead, think again! In the search of a national identity, the Maori culture revives stronger than ever. Kids start learning Maori language at school, signs and official documents are increasingly common in both languages. Arts, music (Paddy Free, Pitch Black) even contemporary design have influences from the mighty Maori. To realise how fearsome Maori fighters were, check out the dance of NZ's rugby union national team before the match! Aukima..
New Zealand is a great destination for any kind of traveller. Don't think about the long distance from home; you will be rewarded with the most astonishing scenery you will probably ever see. The food is great, facilities for visitors are available when you need them, many information centres (iSites) give you all the info you need and you are left in peace to explore and enjoy the natural wonders of Aotearoa!