Skimming Deep

Searching, traveling, talking, reflecting, and exploring. Read along with me as I continue on my journey through life.

Tag: hostel

Hostels in New Zealand

I'm doing this not as an official review, but more as a way to remember the different hostels I've stayed at in New Zealand. No more hostels until I get to Asia, and I'm going to hopefully stay in guesthouses. I'm also going to give a go at couchsurfing.

So here goes:

Auckland: City Garden Lodge

  • One night, my first night in New Zealand = $30NZD ($24USD). I wasn't able to use my BBH discount because I booked online. It was complicated. The hostel owner gave me the tip to just call future hostels and not book online because then I wouldn't get charged a booking fee.
  • A hike up a steep hill, about 15-20 minutes from the town center. Pretty views. As it was my first hostel, I didn't have much to compare it to. The bathrooms were clean. The bed was fine, and I was in a dorm with all women. There were spices/ herbs, free tea and coffee… and free wi-fi just up to a certain Mb limit.

Wanaka: Wanaka Bakpaka

  • Three nights, my first stretch of a two week West Coast self-guided tour = $75NZD ($61USD)
  • Big dining and lounging area. Big kitchen with lots of sinks and cooktops. No cooking oil, shared salt and pepper, or spices and herbs, except for some fresh herbs from their garden. That was the downside. But otherwise, it was a great hostel. Great location– short walk to the town center, right on the lake with an amazing view. Clean and spacious bedroom with a bathroom and shower right in the room! No free wi-fi (except for a really small bit for free when you check in). This was probably my favorite hostel because I really liked Wanaka overall.

Franz Josef: Glow Worm Cottages

  • Three nights, in the midst of rain and clouds and in a tiny tiny town = $66NZD ($54USD)
  • Cozy little hostel in the middle of a tiny village. Big co-ed dorm room. Good shower facilities. Big kitchen with lots of sinks and cooktops. Shared salt and pepper but that was it in terms of food (no oil or spices and herbs). Small-ish dining and lounge area. TV with DVDs and VHS but not many people used it. Nice view. Pay for wi-fi and internet.

Punakaiki: Te Nikau Retreat

  • Two nights = $48NZD ($39USD)
  • Sets of cottages and guesthouses scattered throughout the rainforest. Rata Retreat was a dorm with a nice kitchen and living area and nice views. Cooking oil, spices and herbs, and salt and pepper provided! No cellular signal in this remote town, so you had to buy wi-fi or pay to use the computer. Nice walk to the beach. A bit of a hike from the Pancake Rocks, but they had free pick up and drop off to the bus stop. My bed was quite lumpy. The bathroom facilities were OK (a bit low on the shower pressure). They sell freshly baked bread and muffins ($5/$2) which were both delicious. And really nice owner.

Nelson: The Bug

  • Four nights = $88NZD ($72USD)
  • Crowded co-ed dorm room but clean and fresh linens. Clean bathrooms. Nice open kitchen with cooking oil, herbs, salt/pepper provided and free freshly baked bread in the mornings. 15 minute walk into the town center, located in a more residential part of town. Free bus station pick up and drop off by the hostel owners. Free wi-fi, which was a big plus. Top rated on the BBH website. Really friendly owner with her dogs.

Hostels are definitely cheap and easy in New Zealand. And the ones I stayed at were clean, homey, and comfortable. I met some really nice people along the way, people that I've become Facebook friends with and hope to stay in touch with!

You definitely have to be in a certain frame of mind to accept hostel-hopping. You have to be open to sharing rooms with others, sharing cooking and eating space with others, and be open to chatting with whoever wants to chat. At the same time, you have to be OK with just being alone, too. And I was open to all those experiences. I mean, what do you expect for $20-25 per night!? But these hostels were definitely nice and worth staying at.

And as I think I said before, use BBH to find cheap bookings. And call the hostels when you get to New Zealand to do the bookings. They're usually open after 8am until about 8pm, so you get a person, not a machine. And these are all privately owned by families, so they're all super friendly.

Nelson: What’s Not to Love?

I spent four nights in Nelson and had a nice relaxing time in this coastal, hillside, artsy little town. It was by far the biggest town where I stayed in the last two weeks, and I had all the amenities of any good town– good coffee, free wi-fi (in my hostel, at a cafe), beautiful views, nice walks, and friendly people. I didn't need a car and had a good time walking around the town.

I arrived my first night after a long and windy road from Punakaiki, through mountains and valleys, to The Bug, a top rated hostel on the BBH website. It's about a 15 minute walk outside of the town center, in a residential area, and it's a cute hostel– multiple buildings, but I was only in one with a few rooms, a kitchen, living area, and a computer room. The owner, Stephanie, was super friendly and chatty.

My first night, I just heated up my last leftovers from my Punakaiki meals, and chatted with a young woman from Arizona accompanying a group of young adults. As we chatted, we found a lot in common related to interests in education, yoga, organics, social justice. It was nice to meet a kindred spirit even for a few hours.

My first full day in Nelson, I just headed into town (after a slice of freshly baked bread which Stephanie bakes everyday for the hostellers!) to explore. It was a gorgeous day, and I just walked all over the place:

Spire of Christ Church Cathedral

  • I started with Christ Church Cathedral, a nice church at the edge of the town center, perched on a wee hill. It was early morning, so the town was still quiet. (I haven't been sleeping so well, and that morning, I was awoken by people who were waking up at 5 and 6am!!)

Along the path of the river walk in Nelson.

  • There was a nice walk along a wee river in town that led me around the outskirts of the town center.
  • Then I headed up a hill to the “center of New Zealand” which is a landmark that shows the center of this country. There were beautiful views up top, of the bay and the town. And from there, I took a long way down on a trail that overlooked Nelson. It was such a beautiful day– sun shining, cool breeze, wispy clouds in the distance.

View from a walk in the hills, overlooking Nelson.

I came down and at my lunch back at the top of the Cathedral steps– more of the same that I've been having– sandwich of hummus and cheese and an apple. And then I headed back to the hostel in the early afternoon to just relax. I was lucky to have done that because strangely there was rain that afternoon! I didn't see that coming.

On day two, I took a bus out to Abel Tasman National Park, where there is a coastal trek, one of the great walks of New Zealand. I took a water taxi (basically a speed boat) out to one of the points, Bark Bay, and walked down the trek to Anchorage to be picked up in the late afternoon. This is the cushy way to explore the park. Many people hike the whole track, stopping at these Department of Conservation huts along the way to sleep a night. So I ran into all sorts of backpackers who were doing the whole track or part of it, like me.

Views of Abel Tasman, looking out over the Tasman Bay.

It's a beautiful area– you're hiking in the hills that overlook the Tasman Bay. And the beaches are pristine with hardly any people. The part I walked was nice enough, but I heard that the northern part of the park is even more breathtaking. I took a ton more photos than here, but these are some highlights. It was a really easy walk (I think it's supposed to be one of the easiest of the great walks), and I wish I had had the gumption to do more days. But I think I said before that I wasn't feeling up for multi-day treks without a partner. It's not that it is dangerous but I just wanted some company along the way.

Some quick travel tips– I think there are a lot of ways to get to Abel Tasman, and I was a little overwhelmed by the options: stay in Nelson and take the bus out there just for the day? stay closer to the park in a hostel and get shuttled there? hitchhike from Nelson? take a water taxi once I was out there? If I had had more patience, I might have researched a better deal, but what I did was booked a package with Abel Tasman Aqua Taxis— a bus ride and water taxi, which cost me about $99NZD (~$80USD) for the whole thing (an hour and a half bus ride, plus a 30 minute water taxi, all as a round trip). So if you want to save money, I'd say do some research.

On the topic of hitchhiking, I guess that's a common way to travel. Not as common as it used to be, but still common among backpackers. I've met men and women who've done it. (Don't worry, mom, I haven't done it myself– I'm nervous to try it, especially after hearing of some cousins who got kidnapped in Nicaragua!)

So that was a full day of travel. I got back to the hostel, made dinner, chatted with some backpackers from China, and went to bed.

My third day was mostly a relaxing day, too. It was election day back in the U.S., and I was quite anxious about the results. So I tried to stay occupied, walking into town that day to do an arts walk– there's a self-guided walk that one can take throughout the town to see different galleries and studios of all different kinds of arts. It was really nice, except for one place where I got berated by the store owner for not voting (it's a long story, but my mom and I basically didn't want to get caught for voter fraud…). I also checked out the Nelson Farmer's Market. There's a wee one on Wednesdays, and I think there's a bigger one on weekends, so I got to see the wee one (have you noticed how much I love that word, “wee”?).

From Nelson Farmer's Market. Yummy German homemade sausage with sauerkraut and mustard!

I was getting updates about the election results from friends back home, which was nice. I went to see a movie, “Safety Not Guaranteed” which was a fun, mellow movie with a quirky ending. It definitely helped take my mind off the elections. As soon as I came out of the theater, I was texting again with my friends. For the rest of the day, I hung out at the hostel, nervously awaiting results. And then I got words that I wanted to hear, “Obama Won!!” I was so excited, but I had no one to hug or jump around with, so I was just furiously texting friends and celebrating through cyberspace. Also felt the love through Facebook updates.

Front page news of a newspaper in New Zealand. Good news for me and for many kiwis.

All in all, it was a really nice stay in Nelson. I wonder if I would have felt differently if the election results were different! But I got to chat with some nice people in the hostel, had some really nice weather and nice walks, and enjoyed the laidback feeling of the small town.

Punakaiki: Pancake Rocks!

I'd been hearing about these so-called Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki that were highly touted as an amazing sight. I didn't really know what to expect, but I was looking forward to it. So when I saw them, WOW!

I came to Punakaiki on recommendation from the gardener at Seresin (thanks, S!) and originally planned on staying three nights, but after seeing how small Franz Josef was and thinking that Punakaiki was smaller, I decided to cut back to two nights so I could have more time in Nelson which was my next destination.

It was a pouring rainy day when I left Franz Josef for Punakaiki, but by the time we arrived, the rain had at least stopped. It was grey, but as the day went on (I arrived in the mid afternoon), the sun made an appearance for a bit.

The bus makes a stop in Punakaiki for all the bus-riders to see the famous Pancake Rocks, so I just joined the rest of them while waiting for my pick up to my hostel.

I love how many of the treks and natural sights kind of creep up on you here in New Zealand and then have a WOW-pop factor. There's an easy trail to get to the rocks, and as you turn a corner, you see the Tasman Sea and the first set of pancake rocks. It kind of takes your breath away because you haven't seen anything like it (at least in my case):

I'm a huge fan of the ocean and big waves anyways, so add on to that these amazing natural formations. I kind of whizzed through the trail on this first time around because I didn't want to be late for my pick up. But every bend and turn of this trail revealed more amazing-ness. I heard that it was cooler to see at high tide, which had passed a few hours before. But it was still amazing to see the waves pounding away at these formations, just cutting, cutting away at the rock. Water and wind are such amazing elements– so soft, rough, elusive, nature's agents, really.

I got picked up by one of the hostel owners, checked in, and got settled in this rainforest retreat: Te Nikau Retreat. It's a hostel tucked away in the rainforest (not a tropical rainforest like in South America, but the rainforest in New Zealand is really a lush forest of lots of native trees and plants. It rains a lot in the West Coast, and there is this a forest, so I guess put those together and you get New Zealand rainforests.). There are separate cottages, and I stayed in Rata Retreat, a dorm with a kitchen, common area, and a cool set up of mattresses on the top level.

After getting settled, I headed out for a walk right away. I walked for about an hour and then realized I wasn't on the trek that I had hoped to be on, so I headed back to the trailhead. There were some nice views, but it was a bit boring. Then I went to a beach trail which was beautiful, near the hostel.

My hostel-mates were an Austrian woman (very energetic and totally sweet. We chatted about traveling and about both having quit our jobs to come travel.) and a group of Chinese tourists led by a guy who had just moved to Auckland and spoke English quite well. The three of us (the Austrian woman and the English-speaking Chinese guy) chatted quite a bit, and the other Chinese tourists were kind of in the background, but very nice. They offered us to eat with them! So cute. It's always nice to come across nice travelers along the way. Swapped travel tips and contact information for future visiting!

My second day in Punakaiki, I did a long hike (all together probably about 8 or 9 miles or more? I wish I had a pedometer to measure how many miles I'm walking!) with some nice views.

Then I went back to the pancake rocks and got to see the amazing-ness of high tide when the big waves come in through the rock formations which act as blowholes that spray water through the small holes. I totally got sprayed with sea water. It was incredibly windy and a bit chilly, otherwise, I would've spent hours just watching the spray and waves.

The sun, which had been hiding most of the morning, came out in the afternoon, and I just sat outside, watching the waves of the sea, soaking in the rays. As I think I've said before, I am so solar-powered it's not even funny. I perk up when I get some sun, and my outlook becomes even more positive than before. Happily I'm headed to Nelson which is supposedly one of the cities with the best weather in New Zealand. Hopefully it'll be nice!

I'm getting a bit tired of my hostel meals– hot porridge (muesli and water) for breakfast, cheese-hummus sandwich with an apple for lunch (and an occasional boiled egg), and some kind of curry with rice for dinner. I made a tomato-lentil-leek curry for my Punakaiki dinners. Still tasty (more choices of spices plus cooking oil at this hostel!!) but I'm getting tired of the same thing everyday. I'll hopefully treat myself to a nice dinner or lunch in Nelson. And I'm thinking of buying some bacon to cook for dinners! Miss my bacon!

That evening, there were some new backpackers in the hostel, and we were all a bunch of women– me and a bunch of European women. A few of us went down to see the sunset and I had my small bottle of seresin dessert wine, and the Austrian woman had a bottle of red, and we drank wine and watched the beatufiul sunset over the Tasman Sea. At one point, it hailed and rained, but then the sun came out again from behind the clouds!

With our cottage being so small, it was easy to just make friends with the other backpackers, and we sat around and talked about life, culture, relationships… all sorts of things. It was a nice time to socialize and meet some new people. We even exchanged emails and Facebook usernames! It's amazing how much you open up and learn from travelers when you know you are just crossing paths for a day or two. I've met such kind and open hearted people.

The next (and final) day in Punakaiki, I hung out with my fellow travelers until they left, and then enjoyed a nice cup of coffee (called a long white– I think it's kind of a latte… didn't really understand the explanation). Yumm. I did a final turn of the Pancake Rocks (they're different all the time– depending on the tides, the wind, the sun, the weather…). And said goodbye to the beautiful coastal town of Punakaiki.

Franz Josef: A Glacier Town

Franz Josef is a teensy-tiny town. I don't know if you can even call it a town– maybe a village? If you blink while driving through, you'll miss it. I imagine it becomes quite a hopping place in the summer and winter. But springtime– it's a bit dead. There are lots of accommodations, and I think people use it as a base for surrounding attractions– sky diving, bungy-jumping, helicopter rides to nearby glaciers, long tramps. But I wasn't interested in any of those things, so I'd say this was a bit of a sleepy place for me where I could have spent one less day.

I spent three nights, two and a half days in Franz Josef at the Glow Worm Cottages. I arrived in the late afternoon, just in time for the free soup they have here every night. A nice light veggie soup that is quite tasty. I made my dinner, which was a much bigger success than my meal in Wanaka, namely because of SALT! What did people do before the discovery of salt as an agent in food in so many ways?! It was a tomato-curry-chickpea dish with some cauliflower thrown in, all over rice. Yum. I'm back on track with good meals!

The next day, I was up super early, and I headed out to the head of the Franz Josef glacier. It was about an hour walk from the town to the carpark (=parking lot, in American English) on a nice woody path. I was amazed how different the scenery is here compared to other parts of New Zealand. It's more like rainforest, but cold. It rains a ton here on the West Coast of the South Island, so all the trees have moss and lichen, and the forests are just lush with green and dampness. It really felt like I had landed on Endor and that Ewoks were hiding behind trees and in the distance!

I had a really nice walk (it was early, like 9am) to the glacier head. Amazing landscape and scenery, kind of like a desolate land, a moonscape, even. Along the way, there were posts to guide the path, and I set my camera to self timer to take some photos of myself. I felt a little silly, but there weren't any people around, so I kind of had fun running around.

After making it far as one can to see the glacier (public access is limited, and you need to buy a tour package in order to touch the glacier. I think that's a little sacrilegious because doesn't touching the glacier add to its receding? And people seem to lament a little that the glacier is receding… so cut out the tours, then! Geesh! But all morning, I heard the loud whirrs of helicopters overhead, a reminder that where there is money to be made, Mother Nature's cries are no longer heard.) But I was plenty awed by the part of the glacier that I could see, and why can't everyone else be satisfied with that?

I did a few other walks around the glacier to see more views and some cool ponds and lakes. All the while, I was reminded of movies like Lord of the Rings and Return of the Jedi because of the scenery.

I made it back to town by about 1, and had my lunch back at the hostel– my daily staple of a sandwich of cheese and hummus. I just hung out the rest of the day, reading and relaxing. I also made some new acquaintances– two young women from Malaysia. We chatted about our travels and it was nice to have some conversation with some nice people. They were in Franz Josef for about a week, and they were helping out in the hostel in exchange for free accommodation. I remember hearing them converse when I saw them in the common area, and thinking, “that kind of sounds like Mandarin but not quite!” Turns out they were speaking Mandarin, but I'm sure it was with a Malaysian accent.

In the evening, I made it out to a local yoga class taught by an Asian-Kiwi! It was Iyengar-style yoga, which I wasn't too keen on, but it was a nice stretching workout, and I was reminded how much I love yoga and want to get teacher-trained when I get back to the U.S.

The weather turned out to be really nice that day– the sun came out for a good portion, and though the clouds were always there, it was a nice day to be outdoors, hiking around.

My second full day was not so nice– grey and rainy on and off all day. I had debated taking a tour of another nearby glacier (Fox Glacier), but when I awoke to rain and grey, I decided I'd just take the day to hang out in the hostel and maybe take a walk in the area if it cleared up. Turns out it never really cleared up, so I was content staying in, drinking lots of hot tea, reading a John Grisham novel (which I haven't done since high school, I think) from their public bookshelf, and getting groceries for the next leg of my journey.

Interesting thing about Glow Worm Cottages– they have a radio station all day in the common area, and it's a “classics” station, and literally almost every song was a favorite classic of mine– from the Cure's Friday I'm in Love to great 80s hits. It was fun to have that as background music during my relaxing day indoors.

Travel Tips and Such

My route through New Zealand for the last two weeks.

I've been in New Zealand for almost two weeks and I have come to really appreciate a few choice items:

  • a nifty cool fast-dry towel that my former boss got me as a going away present (thanks, E!). She bought it at REI. It's been great, especially on the farm where it was a little damp in the room where I was staying (a factor of living in the countryside with not the greatest ventilation and insulation from the outside elements).
  • my Keen shoes. I bought these before my trip to Paris last March, and they've served me very well. Sturdy, waterproof, comfortable– great for walking, medium-level hiking, travel. I love them!
  • my iPad and Verbatim bluetooth portable folding keyboard along with the Blogsy app. These three things have been great for blogging. All I need is a wi-fi connection and the Blogsy app is super user-friendly to link to my picasa web albums, my Photostream and photo gallery, and WordPress. WordPress has an app, too, but it's really clunky and not easy to use.
  • my iPhone with a New Zealand simcard (from Telecom). Photos, iMessaging, checking email/ Facebook, Instagram-ing, music. My connection back home. Enough said.
  • a small Nalgene water bottle (500mL). This has been great for day trips– it's not too heavy when full of liquid, and this one is easy to clean– it has a wide open mouth.
  • my two jackets— one is a rain jacket, one is a fleece. In this unpredictable NZ weather, both have been so great to have. They're light, pack well, and also warm when needed. I bought these right before I left because I left my other set of jackets back in Boston. But good thing because those were white and baby blue– the dirt from the farm would have done a number on them.
  • a small travel notebook. Even though I have a notes app on my iPad and iPhone, it's actually easier to just write down quick notes in the notebook– travel arrangements, reflections and journalling (when I don't have access to wi-fi), a makeshift calendar for my itinerary. I got a lot of journals as going away gifts, and the one I brought was nice and light and had a soft cover.

Some other travel tips for New Zealand in particular:

  • I got an Inter-City Flexi-Pass to use for bus travel. Instead of booking travel for each leg of my trip, you can buy these passes (kind of like Eurail passes in Europe) which either book a certain number of on-off trips or hours traveled. So I got a 55 hour Flexipass for $415NZD. I'll let you know at the end of my trip whether that was the right fit or not. I have no idea at this point, but I was trying to estimate based on how many places I was hoping to hit on my trip.
  • I set up a bank account with Schwab bank online to use for free ATM withdrawals all around the world. How it works is you can use any ATM machine, and at the end of each month, if you got charged some kind of withdrawal fee, Schwab reimburses your account all those fee amounts. No other bank does that.
  • I set up a credit card with no foreign transaction fee— there are a few of these out there. The one I set up was with Capital One– their green Cash Rewards credit card. Usually American credit cards have fees if you use them outside of the U.S.; this one doesn't! Make sure to check on your credit card before you leave the country or you'll be hit with all these fees without even knowing it until you get your statement. I think American Express cards don't have a foreign transaction fee, but they're not accepted everywhere. And I never got one of those because you have to pay a fee to use the card. What is that?!
  • Based on the advice of a friend of a friend, I set up a membership with BBH (Budget Backpackers Hostels, or something like that) which cost about $50NZD, and they've supposedly got more unique and family owned hostels around New Zealand. I've only stayed at one BBH hostel so far and it was nice.
  • The Lonely Planet New Zealand has been good so far, not the greatest, especially since I'm really looking for things off the beaten path, but not bad. I don't know about the Rough Guides for NZ or any of the other ones… But so far, I've just kind of wandered around cities and found my way OK. I'm a museum and parks person, so that's what I've gravitated to.

I've really enjoyed myself so far. The highlights have really been staying with different people. The city sightseeing is nice enough, but the best parts have been sitting with people and talking about life and politics and New Zealand. I'm hoping I continue to be able to sit with some nice people for the next weeks.

Plus, as I've said many times already, it really is a beautiful country. I've seen lots of rolling hills, coastal shores, sheep and baby lambs frolicking in the fields, trees and native plants, interesting birds…

I'm also starting to lay out my next legs of travel. I've set my departing date from NZ to November 12th. From there, I'm set to go to Indonesia. I'm hearing mixed reviews about Indonesia, so I'm not yet sure how long I'll stay there. But then I'll move on to Malaysia for a good 1.5 – 2 weeks. And from there, on to Vietnam, hopefully, to see a friend (a former CAPAY youth who's living there for a year with her husband!). And then, I think I'll be ready to head home in time for Christmas (Mom, I know you're excited, but this is what I'm thinking now, so don't get too excited! Things might change!!)

The rare (probably only at this point) self-portrait. It's hard to take photos including oneself when you're traveling solo. And I'm not totally comfortable having my photo on my blog, but I'll go with this one for the benefit of friends and family members reading my blog.


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