March 2016 Recap: Australia & New Zealand

Fair warning: This is a doozy of a recap post. You might not want to attempt getting through it all unless you have more than a few minutes + a cup of coffee by your side.

It seems that my travel-heavy months are absolutely packed with both highlights and lowlights, and this one was no exception. Moving from Melbourne to Sydney and then making a visa run to New Zealand for the second half of March made for plenty of opportunities for both awesome stuff and disappointments. That said, I’m very much looking forward to a calmer April spent mostly nesting in Sydney.

Sunset at WIlsons Prom
Sunset at Wilsons Promontory, Australia.

March 2016 Numbers

Days: 31 (16 in Australia, 15 in New Zealand)

  • 8 days in Melbourne – Victoria, Australia
  • 3 days at Wilsons Promontory – Victoria, Australia
  • 5 days in Sydney – NSW, Australia
  • 2 days in Franz Josef, NZ
  • 7 days in Wanaka, NZ
  • 1 day in Tekapo, NZ
  • 3 days in Aoraki / Mt. Cook NP, NZ
  • 2 days in Queenstown, NZ

Total Spent: US$2273.50 ($1168 was on 15 days in NZ; $336 was on splurges like merino wool layers, shoes, and a Kindle)
  + $740 for student loans
  + $72 for web hosting

Average Spent: US$73/day overall // $62.50/day without splurges // $78/day in NZ

Total Earned: US$3461

Paragliding in Queenstown NZ
Paragliding in Queenstown, NZ (unfortunately not me!).

March 2016 Lowlights

And in the land of first world problems…

Leaving Melbourne

I felt super pumped as soon as I decided to move back to Sydney, absolutely certain it was the right decision. Then a funny thing happened: I started finding my groove in Melbourne and dreading having to leave. I will miss having the best coffee in the world on tap, many incredible outdoor adventures in my backyard, and cycling routes galore at my disposal. Did I make the wrong decision in leaving?

The amazing thing is that it doesn’t matter either way! Nothing is permanent – I can always move back to Melbourne. When you’re a nomad, moving aint no thang.

New Zealand sheep
Welcome to New Zealand, land of jumping sheep!

Having To Do Taxes 4 Times

Taxes are pretty much the best when you work an office job: filing the return is easy peasy, and you almost always get a refund.

And they’re the literal worst when you’re a freelancer or business owner because filing is not straight-forward, and you always owe a buttload of money in taxes. I had to go through TurboTax 4 TIMES to get it right. It was a very long, exasperating night in which I forgot to eat dinner until 1am because I got so wrapped up in it. Ugh, worst!

Sunrise at Mt. Cook
Sunrise at Aoraki Mt. Cook NP.

The NZ Visa Freakout

I’m normally exacting in my plans, so I really can’t explain how I didn’t even think about whether I’d need a visa for New Zealand until the flight attendants handed out our arrival cards before takeoff. Seriously, self: WHAT HAPPENED? I checked my email archives in vain to see if there was some sort of email confirmation relating to a visa, but nope. I had vague recollections of googling it back in January when I first booked my trip, though I wasn’t sure what came out of it. Clearly not a visa application.

So I spent the entirety of the flight from Sydney to Christchurch trying not to think about it, a rather fruitless endeavor really. I even started plotting my backup plan to fly to Rarotonga if they wouldn’t let me into the country (‘cause I had to wait at least a day before returning to Australia).

Upon landing, I bolted to immigration ready to face my fate. To my sweet sweet relief, Americans get to go through the electronic passport check and are issued a NZ visitor’s visa upon arrival. Crisis averted! I guess I must have learned this when I researched NZ visas a few months ago and then forgot about it. So I didn’t mess up after all – my memory just failed me. Whew!

Wanaka, NZ
Wanaka, NZ.

Terrible Weather in New Zealand

To my credit, I intentionally planned my 3 week trip so that I had plenty of time in each place. The worst is when you only have a day or two somewhere and your plans get totally washed out by rain. I also did this because I’d partnered with some local vendors who agreed to let me join their activities for free/cheap on standby, and I figured that would allow for instances where I couldn’t get onto them. So if it rained or I got bumped off the trip, I had plenty more days to make it happen.

I feel like the weather gods really wanted to smite me because despite my best planning efforts, my trip was still negatively impacted by the bad weather. I had a week in Wanaka, a town notorious for its blue sky days, and would you believe that not ONE of my 7 days there was clear? Half of them were rainy, the other half some mix of clouds and sun. I was meant to do the Milford Sound scenic flight + cruise combo (worth $500, mind you, and I was all set to go for free), but they won’t fly unless the weather is near-perfect – so it didn’t happen.

Same deal in Franz Josef. I only went there for 2 reasons: to see a friend from El Questro (whose contract ended a week early, so she wasn’t even there when I was), and to do the glacier heli-hike. It didn’t rain on the day I was booked for it and they still didn’t fly (again, it has to be perfect weather). The next day it did rain, so of course no flights or hikes happened. So basically I went well out of my way to get to the west coast for nothing, when I could have just headed straight to Otago and saved a day of travel.

The lackluster weather I was dealt in NZ was incredibly disappointing, and a sobering reminder that there’s so much you have no control over. Ok universe, I think I’ve thoroughly learned this lesson – can you please have a little more mercy on me next time?

Franz Josef glacier
The closest I got to Franz Josef.

The Missing Package Ordeal

I have to take a deep breath before I plunge into this woeful tale. It’s a very long story, which you can read by clicking the below link. Basically: I ordered a pair of shoes before I left Australia and had them shipped to the Wanaka post office, there were problems with the delivery, and I had to spend a ridiculous amount of time and energy chasing the package down. Just an awful experience, which totally could have been prevented had the company told me they couldn’t ship to the post office.

March 2016 Highlights

Wilsons Prom
Tongue Point, Wilsons Promontory.

Finally Making it to Wilsons Promontory

I hopped on a roadtrip with a few young European backpackers to Wilsons Promontory and it was a whirlwind of hikes and beach adventures. While our travel styles didn’t mesh perfectly, I still thoroughly enjoyed exploring this little Victorian oasis just a few hours east of Melbourne. We saw killer sunsets from the summit of Mt. Oberon and from Whisky Bay, frolicked on the aptly named and absolutely stunning Squeaky Beach, and ate nothing but processed ham and cheese sandwiches for 3 days (woof).

Sunset from Mt. Oberon
Sunset from Mt. Oberon, Wilsons Prom.

My New Kindle Voyage

I’ve been fortunate enough not to have witnessed many of my tech gadgets commit suicide over the years, but my old school Kindle recently decided it was time to hit the dust. When I turned it on, only a jagged piece of the screen would display any text – the rest was blacked out. Totally no longer usable.

I was secretly happy for the excuse to upgrade: my old Kindle was ancient, clunky, and all scratched up because I’m dumb and never bought a case for it. Little did I know that Kindles aren’t really a thing in Australia and therefore it’s tricky to get your hands on one in-store. I managed to find one electronics store that carried them, but they were out of the Paperwhite and only had the fancy and pricier Kindle Voyage in stock. So now I have a really fancy Kindle with an adjustable back light and the ability to estimate how much time is left until I finish the book based on my typical reading speed. I sourced the official leather origami cover for it on eBay, which not only protects my new baby but looks sleek AND automatically turns on when I open the front cover. I’M SO IN LOVE!

So far I’ve read The Girl on the Train, and I’m currently devouring Gone Girl while traveling around New Zealand. Both are so, so good, and similar in a lot of ways: a mentally twisted protagonist, a mystery, some gore. Right up my murder mystery-loving alley!

Sydney

Reuniting with Anna & Sydney

Um DUH, of course this is on the highlights reel. Reuniting with one of my favorite people and one of my favorite cities couldn’t possibly be anything less than awesomesauce. Can’t wait to hop back on the Sydney adventure train next month!

instagram contest

Winning a $5000 Instagram Contest

In super-exciting news: I won the $5000 prize in the Mornington Peninsula tourism board’s “Find Your Way To $5k” instagram contest. Entries had to be a 4-photo collage depicting you having fun on the Peninsula this past summer. I conveniently had a visit planned just before the contest was ending, but if I’m honest I really didn’t go out of my way to take photos specifically for my entry. What I DID do though was watch a short youtube video afterwards depicting the sorts of things the judges would be looking for: namely kids frolicking around, all smiley and goofy, and doing some of Mornington’s key touristy activities. So while some of the insta-famous local photographers posted these beautiful collages of rock pools and beaches, I included photos of myself striking goofy poses in various scenic spots, balanced out by shots of paragliding and the hot springs (i.e. the touristy stuff).

It’s easy to say, “oh yeah, I knew I was going to win”, even if you didn’t really know. But I felt really confident and honestly wasn’t all that surprised to hear that I’d won the contest. My photos were great, and I gave the judges exactly what they wanted. (I know, I’m so modest you guys!)

Wanaka cycling in NZ
Cycling in Wanaka, NZ.

Hitting the Bike Trails of Wanaka

One of my favorite days was when I borrowed one of the hotel bikes and rode out to Lake Hawea on the Hawea River Trail. Though it was a mountain bike with sturdy tires, it had a decal on it warning you not to take it off road. Naturally I ignored the warning and rode on gravel and dirt paths. My bike didn’t like that very much and took to moaning and groaning for most of the way. I absolutely LABORED my way up and down this track, but man it was worth it. I loved the rolling mountain scenes and riding along the river (just HOW is the water so dang clear?!). I saw so many other people out doing outdoorsy things while I was cycling: from other cyclists, to people on boats, to river surfers, Wanaka caters to every kind of outdoorsperson. What a magical place!

Lake Tekapo, NZ
Lake Tekapo, NZ.

Amazing Wanaka Sunrises

The weather in Wanaka may have been a mixed bag, but the sunrises were consistently stellar. Every morning there were these bright pink clouds over the lake (my favorite!). I kept waking up right around the peak of it, just a tad too late to make it to the lake in time to catch the action – except for one day.

Lake Wanaka sunrise

The Roys Peak Hike

Sitting atop my Wanaka to-do list was the epic Roys Peak hike: one of the only tramps in the Wanaka area accessible without a car. I waited awhile for a sunny day, then set out from my hotel one morning to tackle it.

The ascent is no joke: it is nonstop uphill switchbacks to the summit. It was probably to my advantage that it was mostly cloudy when I started the hike, else I’d have been dripping sweat and sunburnt. I was pretty damn proud of myself for doing it in just under 2.5 hours (people usually take about 4 hours, apparently). I took almost as long going back down, but that was only because I stopped every other minute to snap a picture once the sky had finally cleared. The views from the trail are nearly as amazing as the views from the top!

As for the summit? Oh yeah, 100% epic. You’ve probably seen the classic photo of someone standing on the cliff edge, looking out at the lake from way above. It’s pretty hilarious watching all the hikers take turns taking the same exact shot. As much as a non-conformist as I am, there was no way I was taking any other shot but this one:

Roys Peak hike

My 5 Night Stay at the Altamont Lodge

I rarely make a fuss over accommodation, but my time at the Altamont Lodge in Wanaka was so fantastic that it merits a mention slash rave review. The evening I arrived, one of the owners offered to drive me to the supermarket because I didn’t have a car and it was at least a 20 minute walk. They were seriously this nice and helpful throughout my whole stay.

altamont lodge in wanaka

The hotel itself felt like walking into a ski lodge – everything wood, and super cosy with just 12 rooms. I had my own single room for NZ$55/night (that’s like US$37!) with an oh-so-slight view of Lake Wanaka from my window where I’d peek out at the sunrise each morning. My room was 1 of 2 upstairs and so I basically monopolized the upstairs lounge area for 5 straight days watching cheesy movies and tv shows and getting work done. Oh, and you better believe I hopped in the hot tub every evening after frolicking. I won’t stay anywhere else if I ever return to Wanaka – this place is far and away the best value accommodation I’ve ever encountered.

Walking to Glendhu Bay

I unknowingly planned my time in Wanaka around the big Warbirds Over Wanaka event that happens every 2 years over Easter weekend. Unfortunately for me, it meant scrambling to find accommodation for my last few days in town and dealing with an influx of tourists. My original thought was to take a cab 13km down the road to Glendhu Bay, where there was a campground right on the lake in what seemed like an idyllic little spot. Then I found out it would have cost me NZ$40 one way so I said HAHAHA no thanks (I mean seriously? $40 for a 15 minute ride? Get REAL). Instead I started walking out of town, thinking maybe I’d try to hitch a ride out that way, but thankfully I found another campground closer to town that had room for me and my tent.

I still really wanted to see Glendhu Bay though, so after setting up my tent I walked to the lake and just kept going toward the bay on the lakeside Millennium Track. I knew there was no way I’d make it there and back before dark, but I just didn’t care – I needed to see Glendhu Bay. I’d worry later about getting back to town.

Glendhu Bay, Lake Wanaka

13km later and I’m smack in the middle of Narnia. The mountains have all sorts of pre-sunset sunbeams cutting through them and everything around the lake is glowing. This is what I’d been seeking.

I had my moment by the bay, then headed back to the main road once the sun went down and successfully hitchhiked for the first time ever (sorry Mom!). It couldn’t have been easier or better: a young couple from Christchurch picked me up on their way back from climbing near Mt. Aspiring, and they did not mug or murder me – hooray!

Sunset over Glendhu Bay, NZ
Sunset over Glendhu Bay.

Paddleboarding on Lake Wanaka

I booked a morning SUP session on the lake because I’d found a ridiculous deal on Book Me for the 9am slot (something like US$6 for an hour). But man, when I woke up that morning I was NOT feeling it. Not that I’m ever feeling anything before 10am and 2 cups of coffee.

And then I got on the water and promptly forgot that I was tired and uncaffeinated because paddleboarding is THE FUNNEST. I was doing really well and felt very comfortable on the board… until a boat charged out from the marina and sent ripples my way. I fell backwards in slow-motion, into the freezing cold lake, but it’s really funny: even though I hate being cold and wet (especially both together), I almost enjoyed it.

Aoraki Mt. Cook NP

Everything About Aoraki Mt. Cook National Park

Ahh, Mt. Cook entered my trip exactly when I needed a pick-me-up. After a rained-out glacier experience at Franz Josef, various weather-related and mail-related woes in Wanaka, and Lake Tekapo not quite being what I expected, I really needed to do something – go somewhere – mindblowingly awesome.

My 3 days at Aoraki Mt. Cook NP couldn’t have been better. I had amazing weather for both my Hooker Valley and Mueller Hut hikes, and it only rained after these things were over with. I got to camp in a valley and wake up to an unobstructed view of the sunrise over the lake. I scaled a mountain and watched the sunset over Mt. Cook. I returned to civilization and indulged in some incredible salmon. Aoraki treated me well and I couldn’t be more grateful for it after a frustrating 10 days of travel.

Aoraki Mt. Cook NP

What’s Next in April 2016

I’ve got about one more week in New Zealand, where I’ll be based in Queenstown and getting into some outdoor adventures whenever the rain lets up! I’ll be in Sydney for the remainder of the month house sitting in Erskineville – I’m OH SO EXCITED to have a nice house to myself after a few weeks schlepping it in hostels and campgrounds. There’s a good chance I’ll only leave the house for coffee and beach action ;)

Lindsay Buckley is the photographer and travel blogger behind Frugal Frolicker. She's a New Yorker currently based in Sydney, Australia, documenting outdoor travel experiences Down Under and beyond. Follow along with Lindsay's travel photography on Facebook and Instagram, and be sure to sign up for the monthly Frugal Frolicker newsletter!

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