Monday, March 21, 2016

Happy Birthday to me!

What a way to celebrate turning 30! It was my Birthday on Saturday.

I used to think 30 was so old - not old as in elderly but old as in grown up. It's an official kind of number that says, you've played up and messed around, and now it's all serious. But now that I'm here, like all ages, it doesn't feel that old, and in fact I'm the happiest I've ever been in my life and although I feel very organised and mature with budgets and paying bills on time and having a plan (I am never without a plan), I haven't sprouted offspring yet and still ignore my superannuation... yes, I really should do something about that. 

Being away for this milestone is both amazing and a little sad, not being able to celebrate a "major" birthday without friends and family. Luckily my newly minted husband has made it an awesome day!

Firstly he gave me a lovely local greenstone pendant which I love, and then we are having our first night out of the camper in accommodation at the amazing Eliza's Manor in Christchurch. Out for dinner and everything, horah!

When I look back at my life so far I often worry about wasted time and I wonder if I've really achieved as much as I could have or should have. But then I'm quick to remind myself that I already have a lot more than many people in the world and although its important to have hopes and dreams its just as important to be happy with what you've got, right now, here today. And I have to say that I am pretty happy, obviously being on holidays at the moment but even in the daily grind at home, things are pretty lovely and I'm proud of our little life together and I think most days I'm a pretty good human, so what more is there to want really?

Happy birthday to me :)

Sunday, March 20, 2016


Whale tails, beautiful water views, unreal sunsets and lucky shell finds on the beach. Bliss.

Down South

We didn't know what to expect from the South Island. When talking to people about doing to New Zealand, we learned that it's pretty common for people to visit only one island or the other, or both at separate times, and when asked, others always say "both islands are lovely in their own ways". Our plan for the next few weeks is to travel almost right round the South Island.

The difference in landscape from North to South is obvious, although winding roads and steep hills still feature. Grasses seem more common here, giving the place a drier feel. We head from Picton towards Kiakoura, tourist hotspot and whalewatching central.

The trip along the coast was just beautiful, and we enjoyed stopping at the fur seal colony on the way. The weather is stunning once again.

Kiakoura is a lovely little town, and the beach is all dark black volcanic rock. Made for some great photos! 

Saturday, March 19, 2016

From North to South - New Zealand ferries

There are two main ferry companies which operate between Wellington and Picton, taking goods, people and vehicles from one island to the other.  You can see the land across the water, it's not that far, and websites and books will tell you that the trip only takes a couple of hours. This is not a lie, but set aside about 5 hours to allow for delays, boarding and unboarding, and the actual sailing itself.

The first time we travelled across the water, we went into the terminal, purchased our tickets for the next sailing and away we went. We initially travelled on Bluebridge. After our time on the South Island, we discovered that there are free booklets you can get from the i-Site which contain vouchers for a range of things including a discount on the ferry. This, combined with the discount you get if you book online, means you can save a lot of money this way, and as its not a cheap exercise (our first trip cost over $400), this is what I would recommend.

The ships themselves are like mini Spirits of Tasmania. They have optional cabins, various eating areas, a cinema, and areas to sit inside and out. You can't access your vehicle while you are sailing. We found the facilities on Interislander on the way back far superior, although don't bank on the free wifi as it is too heavily used to be any good on the trip.

The trip is definitely a scenic one, especially at the South Island part of the journey, so rug up and head out into the cold to get some great images of the landscape!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Hiring a Campervan in NZ

Here are a few interesting facts about hiring a campervan in New Zealand.

Campervans, or motorhomes, are absolutely everywhere in New Zealand. Camping is a favourite past time for Kiwis so the great news is the facilities are very good for people planning on motor homing around the country.

We hired our van through Mighty. It appears the hiring companies have a "hand me down" system with the vans. New ones start life as Maui vans, not so new ones end up hiring out through Hertz, and when they are old and tired Mighty provide them to people like us at a very reasonable price. As with most things, you get what you pay for. Our VW diesel had very little in the way of enthusiastic effort, and a death rattle that had even the locals worried, and some of the features you would expect were either missing or not working - such as the auto folding step, 12 volt heater and most annoyingly, no reversing sensors or camera. Overall the van was clean, tidy and had everything we needed, so the missing parts and amusing engine/gearbox characteristics were definitely worth the $4,000 we saved for the 4 week period we hired it.

The van we hired was a 4 seater sleeper, although the idea of spending 4 weeks in close quarters with two other people would probably drive me insane. I am sure there are some people that do it. Our van was definitely not the biggest available, but having two sets of wheels at the back was a huge advantage with this sized vehicle, as it was surprisingly stable on the road.

It pays to be aware that these 3 tonne beasts are required to drive at 90km/h only, and although they are happy to go faster, the local police disagree, although our brief meeting with the constabulary revealed despite their keen knowledge on speed limits, their knowledge of laws regarding passengers sitting in the back lounge area whilst moving (where there are no seat belts) is a little sketchy. Regardless of law, only an idiot would sit in the back of a moving vehicle with no seat belt on. Apparently many idiots visit New Zealand also.

The camping laws are very relaxed in New Zealand compared to Australia.  If you are self contained (toilet and shower on board), there are almost endless places you can camp, and the Department of Conversation (NZ Parks & Wildlife) are kind enough to list many camp spots in a handy free brochure that you can get from any i-Site (information centre), or, if you actually look at the paperwork your hire company gives you *cough* you should be given them when you hire the van - one for each island.  There are also plenty of caravan parks, which cost an average of $50 for two people overnight at a powered site, and we found many campers taking advantage of pretty well anywhere out of the way. Although its not recommended to "free camp" wherever you please, chances are if you pull up late at night and take off early in the morning without causing a fuss no-one will mind. Common sense prevails here, and you will see many other people doing the same thing.

There are a few towns that don't allow free camping, and this is signed very clearly on the road entering these places. Do the right thing and obey the signs - you probably will be keen to enjoy some luxurious caravan park facilities by this stage anyway. 

New Zealand roads are, overall, very well maintained. This is lucky because they are the most intricate, windy, hilly and precarious roads I've ever experienced in a first world country. Tasmania is known for its roads - New Zealand roads are like Tasmanian roads on steroids. The lumbering, heavy campervan performed very well, but that didn't mean we weren't wishing to be behind the wheel of a V8 Commodore instead, or perhaps something more agile and luxurious. You will see many beautiful classic and performance cars in New Zealand, and while behind the wheel of your campervan you will wish you were driving every single one of them instead. At least the slow pace allows plenty of time to take in the beautiful landscape.

Do you ever find tourists in your local area extremely annoying on the roads? Try your best not to be one of these people in New Zealand. There are plenty of opportunities to pull over and let faster vehicles go past, so it pays to do so as soon as you can so those going about their every day lives don't sit behind you and curse your big white camper-whale. Most of the time, doing so will earn you a friendly toot toot of the horn.

Some places are kind enough to provide camper van parking in their towns and car parks, so keep an eye out for the signs. You will also find dump sites extremely easy to find, they are literally everywhere which makes life very easy.

Also, never believe the GPS or Google Maps when it comes to driving times. If Lonely Planet says it will take 5 hours to do 250km, they mean it. As I mentioned, the roads are beautiful and insane.

Overall I would definitely recommend visiting New Zealand via camper van. It's great to have snacks and facilities onboard, you don't have to drag a suitcase into a hotel every night and when it's pouring with rain in the middle of nowhere you have somewhere warm and dry to be. 

The van was a bit long for standard parks, but most places were easy to park at anyway

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Land that Shakes

New Zealand probably isn't the first place on most honeymoon destination lists. Most people think of something relaxing and tropical, massages and cocktails, romantic walks on the beach. And although I agree that sounds lovely, we are not the sort of people that enjoy sitting around doing very little. After a day or so, we look at each other and say "so what now?". Suckers for paying for a spa suite, only to jump excitedly into the spa, and find in 5 minutes time we're over it and ready to get out. Also, New Zealand is close, only a 3 hour flight away, which means less plane time for someone who hates flying (hint: not me). No Visa requirements for Australian citizens makes things easy, and also very affordable business class flights. Perfect!

So on Monday 14th March we headed off from Melbourne, arriving in Auckland.

New Zealand is enough like Australia not to feel completely unfamiliar, but different enough to be really interesting. The traffic rules are similar, except everyone drives like maniacs. Perhaps they throw caution to the wind when so many of their cities are built on volcanoes, craters and fault lines.

They tell you that New Zealanders are passionate about sheep, but you'll soon find the dairy industry is king here and you're likely to spot endless cows rather than sheep in the paddocks. This doesn't necessarily mean the steak is overly exciting however, the Kiwi's far prefer to breed for milk than meat.

Our first few nights were spent in Auckland, not the capital city in New Zealand but probably the most exciting and arguably the prettier of the bigger populated areas, spread wide across the landscape accented with little hills and landmarks that try desperately to hide the fact you are in the middle of a volcano. On our first night we flicked on the small telly in our cozy B&B room, to a show all about volcanoes. Auckland will definitely be subject to a huge eruption one day, it said. It's not a matter of if, but when. Lovely. Welcome to New Zealand. Perhaps that's why there's no bugs here. Although it's quite a luxury being able to leave windows open in 25 degree heat without getting eaten alive, perhaps those with 6 or more legs have better sense than to live their short lives in a place that shakes and rattles and generally doesn't want to sit still. 

Lonely Plant book in hand, we visited One Tree Hill (there is no tree there), the Sky Tower and the War Museum.  The Museum is beautiful and interesting in equal parts, and well worth the visit. New Zealand was the last large land mass to be populated by humans, and it's flora and fauna are amazing and unique. I never realised New Zealand has no native mammals, although of course many have been introduced since people found this amazing land. 

Our journey is soon to take us away from New Zealand, picking up our campervan and heading directly to the South Island.

Sunset in Auckland from our accommodation

Auckland skyline - we went up that tall tower!

War Memorial Museum

Auckland by night

Inside the Museum

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Brushing off the dust...

Freshly minted Mr & Mrs Johnstone
So I thought I'd brush the dust off this blog, considering we are about to embark on a big adventure. Life has been a little busier than normal the last little while, including the planning and plotting of what was the most perfect day of my life - the one where I started a Miss and ended as a Mrs! After a year and a half of planning, it's nice for it to have all come together.  Some people get so wrapped up in their wedding planning, there's a thing called post-wedding planning depression. I can safely say that I'm not going to be a sufferer, always keen to move onto the next project which for us is, our honeymoon!

So in a few days time we head off to New Zealand. 4 weeks in a deluxe camper van, winging it and discovering all the fantastic wonders the land of the long white cloud has to offer! I've stepped away from Facebook a fair bit these days, so this is a way to keep in touch, share the journey and not bombard those who aren't really interested.

Stay tuned!

About Me

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I'm a young earth loving Tasmanian who loves nature, art, old things, handmade things, collecting things and embracing the lovelier things the world has to offer.