New Zealand – I Finally Made It

This is it then, the first blog about a new country for over two years. It’s crazy to think I had wanted to get to NZ for so long and to finally arrive felt pretty surreal once it all came together. It had been a long time coming and although there were certainly times when I did lose hope and think it would never happen, deep down I always had faith I would get here in the end. Timings couldn’t have been much better either, I was ready to leave my job in Aus, and my visa there was also up. Don’t get me wrong I had plenty of options to stay in Australia, but once I knew I could get to NZ there was no holding me back. NZ hadn’t really been on my radar until a few months into my time in Aus when I thought it would be a good idea to visit while this side of the world. That thought just snowballed and became a bit of an obsession in the end, but I just instinctively knew it was a country for me and that I would love it. So far that has certainly proved to be the case. I’ve now been here a month and the current plan is to stay until Christmas before coming home. I’m fairly set on that plan, but as with anything over the past few years, lots can change. Getting here wasn’t without its difficulties though and visa troubles are likely to rumble along in the background while I’m here, but I won’t let that impact my time. Just to paint a picture, for NZ you can get a working holiday visa as with Australia, I had applied for this at the start of 2020, aiming to come April 2020. The visa got granted on the 14th of Feb 2020 about 4 weeks before NZ shut their borders. The condition of the visa is that you get 1 year to enter the country once the visa is granted and then when you enter you can technically have 2 years in the country with full working rights. We all know what happened with COVID, but finally, NZ and Aus agreed to a travel bubble commencing the 19th of April 2021. I flew in on the 5th of May 2021. What this meant is I missed the year window to enter the country on my working holiday visa and this was now void and couldn’t be used. I assumed I could just apply for another one seeing as it was through no fault of my own, but stupidly the NZ government hasn’t changed the law to allow this as of yet. And you are only allowed the visa to be granted once in your lifetime even if you don’t use it, normally fair enough, with COVID, a bit steep. Meaning I may never have the chance to use a NZ working holiday visa. Little bit shit, but there we are, maybe over the coming months or years that may change, it just depends on what the NZ government legislates. This, therefore, meant I had to enter the country on a tourist visa. Luckily due to having a UK passport, I am entitled to a 6-month tourist visa on arrival, which takes me up to the 5th of November, then closer to the time I shall apply for an extension to this, as you can get up to 9 months and that will take me up to Christmas. I knew all this before departing Aus apart from one small condition that on a tourist visa you must show proof of onward travel, i.e a plane ticket out of the country. As I rocked up to the check-in counter for my flight from Melbourne to NZ, I was told there was no way I could get on the plane without an onward ticket. A pretty heart in mouth moment, but I was hell-bent on boarding that plane. After a fast-tracked phone call with NZ immigration, it was decided that if I went and brought a ticket back to the UK there and then I would be allowed on the plane. So there I was at 6:00 am in the airport lounge, searching Skyscanner for flights from NZ back to the UK on the 4th of November. Pretty crazy experience and to be honest I didn’t even really know what I booked until after the fact. Turns out I booked a £550 flight from Christchurch to Heathrow via Sydney and Dubai taking 30 hours in total haha. I was sensible enough to book a Flexi-Ticket which I will change to some time in December as I plan on coming back then anyway. But with that, they let me on the plane and from there I had no more dramas. The only slight sticking point now is on a tourist visa I am unable to work. Which to be honest I don’t really mind, I worked bloody hard for a year and a half in Aus with the last 3 months of my time there being really stressful. I am very much looking forward to just enjoying myself in NZ as a tourist, learning to snowboard and exploring the beautiful country. It does mean I have to go back into my student mode and budget myself very carefully. But a 7 month holiday in NZ doesn’t sound too bad to me. Anyway enough of the visa stuff, if you want to know anymore just send me a message, happy to fill you in on the details haha. 

I touched down in Christchurch NZ on the 5th of May. Again I couldn’t quite believe I was here. Deep down I had an underlying sense that even with the troubles that had just passed and a few still ahead I instinctively knew I was going to have the best time and be okay. It’s a powerful feeling to possess and to feel it so clearly was pretty mad. If you ever have that feeling listen to it as manifesting your future can be pretty powerful, after all, “what you think, you become”. And with that thought, I stepped out the airport door to make my way to the bus, looked to my right, saw a guy with a backpack, asked if he was heading to town, he responded “yep and you wouldn’t believe the morning I’ve had” and that right there was the start of my first friendship in NZ and meeting Emilio. Turned out we were also staying at the same hostel in NZ and that brutally for Emilio he had flown to NZ to surprise his then girlfriend, who on arrival said she didn’t want to see him and told him to leave. So understandably he was in a rather down mood. We checked into our hostel, then headed down to the bar for a drink. (Side note the guy in my room stunk, back to hostel reality after 1 and a half years. I did move room and low and behold the other person was from Carlisle, also called Calum, spelt the same haha, but I digress). By the time I got down to the hostel bar Emilio was talking to this other guy called Matt, a Scottish lad, living on the north island but just on his way back from a trip on the south island. And so as is tradition really when you land in a new country for the first time, the 3 of us headed out for a night on the town, chatting about our experiences, travels and just enjoying the process of meeting new people. We also ended up in one of the strangest bars I’ve ever been in with some of the strangest people too, The Craic, what a place. Being out with new people though reminded me how much I love going to new places and meeting new people. It felt amazing to be travelling again properly and I just felt so happy. That night a few beers deep Emilio decided he was going to try enjoy himself as best he could in NZ and book a campervan to travel around in, would I like to join him. I was more than happy to do so and said I planned on taking a week or so to travel down to Queenstown from Christchurch. Just like that the road trip had been formulated.  

There wasn’t too much more to report from Christchurch and to be honest, I won’t rush back, the centre is nice and the city is so clean, but there isn’t much going on there, especially with no real tourists around. I did however buy some of my winter ski gear from an outlet shop there. I just so happened to stumble across it while looking for something else, walked inside and was greeted by the store owner, who was a lady originally from Danbury in Essex about 30 minutes away from where I live at home. Small world. She was so helpful seeing as I had no idea what I was looking for as I’ve never done snow sports before. Two hours later I left the store a few hundred dollars lighter but with pretty much all my snow gear for the winter season and at a really great price. Snowmania it’s called in Christchurch if you’re ever in town. After a couple of days in the city, we picked up the van Emilio had hired (which turned out to be painted like the mystery machine) and started our road trip. The first stop was Akaroa about an hour and 20 minutes from Christchurch. It didn’t take long to be struck by the beauty of this country, the journey over the mountain range pass was stunning and then the descent down offered amazing views of Akoura. We arrived around mid-afternoon but the town itself was small meaning we explored most of this and around some of the waterfront throughout the afternoon. We had some dinner then drove down the road to a secluded part of town to free camp in our van next to the water. The following morning we woke up to a beautiful view of the mountains, whilst a pair of dolphins swam about 20 m out from shore. The dolphins were tiny, almost like little puppies. The reason for this is these weren’t just any dolphins, it’s the only place in the world you will find Hector’s Dolphins. They are the smallest and rarest dolphins in the world and to wake up, look out the van and see them swimming was amazing. I’m also certain they were babies which made them even smaller.

Photo of Akaroa
View from the van

After packing up the van we then headed to Lake Tekapo, 3 hours from Akaroa. We stayed at the YHA hostel here which overlooks the lake itself and was a perfect place to base ourselves for a few nights. I first took a walk to the Church Of The Good Shepperd, supposedly one of the most photographed landmarks in NZ. It’s not hard to see why, by day it has a backdrop of the lake and mountains by night the Milky Way. The town of Tekapo is a dark shy reserve and one of the best places in the world to see the night sky. If you google it, you will see some stunning picture of the church and milky way in the background. Also if you catch the right time of year, there will be fields of brightly coloured lupins flowing too. Sadly wrong time of year for me, but the place was stunning all the same. While in Tekapo we did take a visit to the Mt John Observatory, with the dark sky project in the hope of seeing some amazing stars, sadly the conditions were far from ideal, so it was as spectacular as I had hoped but even so was a cool experience. Another day while Emilio was finishing some of his university work, I took a solo hike from town around the base of the lake, up to Mt John observatory and back down to town, totalling around 4 – 5 hours. I saw 3 other people the whole time and it was so cleansing being out in the fresh air surrounded by nothing but mother nature. I truly think everyone needs to just get outside and be in nature by themselves from time to time, it has such a healing effect on you and I came back feeling amazing and so motivated to do things. It helped the scenery was beautiful and the air so crisp and clean. I had high expectations of NZ before arriving and it was already delivering. 

After Lake Tekapo, we travelled around Lake Pukaki to Aoraki and Mt Cook, which is the tallest mountain in NZ at 3724m. Again the drive and views were out of this world, honestly, words can’t describe how beautiful a place this is. There are lots of hiking trails in the area, one of the easiest yet breathtaking is the Hooker Valley track, which is a 3-hour return trip to Hooker Lake, which offers the opportunity of stunning views up to Mt Cook itself. The day before there had been a dusting of snow which along with the blue skies made for a stunning backdrop to the awesome mountains surrounding us. Emilio and I enjoyed the walk with Emilio even writing a poem on-route and recording it once we arrived at the lake. The destination was stunning, although sadly cloud blocked the view of Mt Cook, everywhere else was spectacular including Mt Sefton. There was even a lone iceberg floating in the lake itself. We stayed for around an hour basking in the awe of such a beautiful place. I should also add here that a big theme of this road trip was how deserted everywhere was. I imagine all these destinations are normally teeming with international tourists, but what with NZ being closed to international travellers and the Aus travel bubble only being open a few weeks, most places we visited we had almost to ourselves. Which again just added to the privilege I felt witnessing these stunning feats of mother nature. They would be beautiful regardless of all the tourists milling around, but with all that removed it just added an extra special layer to an already great trip, an element that will likely never be repeated. The next day we rose early, the weather today was perfect and not a cloud in the sky. I was tempted to go back to Hooker Lake to see Mt Cook in all its glory or tackle the Sealy Tarns track which is over 2200 steps up and again meant to offer spectacular views of the mountains. However our legs were feeling it a little from the previous few days hiking, plus Emilio had a university commitment he had to attend to that afternoon, limiting our time. Instead, we opted for the 30-minute walk to Kea Point, which is an easy walk but allows you to see the peak of Mt Cook from a little bit further away than the Hooker Valley Track. Again we had the place all to ourselves. The sun was rising over the mountains and I just had this urged I wanted to scream out in jubilation. I said this to Emilio and he was keen on the idea, so on the count of 3, we both let out a big roar. A mere second of two after we finished the mountains then roared back. It’s one of the most surreal things that has ever happened. They just rumbled groaned and creaked so loudly for a good 30s to a minute. We both just stood there in shock and couldn’t quite believe what just happened. I was worried we had caused an avalanche or something from shouting, which realistically is the only explanation I can think of, or the sound just caused some part of the glaciers hidden up in the mountains to move and break. Whatever the true cause I really don’t know and if we hadn’t of shouted would it of still happened? I did feel a bit guilty afterwards thinking if that was due to us, I hope no one got hurt and was that a really stupid thing to do. I don’t want it to seem like we were right up in an avalanche zone though, I know that would have been stupid, we were so far from the mountains it seems crazy to think anything bad would happen from us shouting. Emilio summed up the moment perfectly in one simple phrase. “Words are powerful”. 

After our spiritual moment with the mountains, we took a quick drive to the Tasman Glacier Viewpoint. Sadly as with most glacier, over the past 20 years due to global warming, it has retreated significantly, but you can still make it out in the distance. Would have been amazing to see in all its glory though. After the quick stop off here, we left the Mt Cook area to travel to Wanaka so Emilio could meet his university commitment. No question though top 3 most beautiful places I’ve been. I certainly want to return and tackle the Sealy Tarns hike. 

The journey to Wanaka took around 2.5 hours and the highlight was certainly crossing through Lindis Pass, which was a beautiful section of road. Wanaka is a tranquil town set on the lake, with a backdrop of stunning mountains. I know there is lots to explore and do here, however, we only stayed the one night, giving us enough time to see the famous Wanaka Tree and also take a quick and very cold dip in the lake. I will 100% be back to explore Wanaka more after the winter season as I know there is so much to do there. Roy’s peak being one of the best hikes in NZ I want to tick off. With that on Friday the 14th of May, we left Wanaka to make the hour drive to Queenstown (QT) which is the place I will call home for the next 5 months.

Wanaka Tree

My first weekend in QT was a pretty big one, I had a night out with Emilio on Friday, then Saturday I met up with my friend Ben, who actually lives in Wellington but was down in QT for the weekend. I met Ben while doing Camp America back in 2015, and hadn’t seen him since, 6 years ago now. But when travelling you make such intense friendships really quickly and they always stand the test of time. Meaning it was so easy to reconnect. I think the reason for this is you spend a lot more time with people. For example school friends you maybe hang out once or twice a week, whereas when travelling or in situations like camp, you pretty much spend 24/7 with people. Meaning although you spend in real time a few weeks or months together, that time is so intense, compared to the “real world” that great friendships form in such short periods. I’ve now been in QT for 3 weeks and most of that time has just been getting settled. I finished buying all my winter gear, including new snowboard boots and a board so I’m fully set to make the most of the mountains when they open end of June. What with not working I aim to board at least 3 to 4 times a week. I’m very much looking forward to learning a new skill and although I’ll be a completed beginner at the start, I cant wait to push myself to progress as much as I can throughout the whole winter season. Follow my EverittsAdventures Instagram account where I plan to do a series called, “Beginner to Backflip” following my experience learning throughout the winter. I’ve also completed a few hikes in the area. One being Queenstown Hill, which offers spectacular panoramic views of QT and its beautiful surrounding. Another one the Tiki Trail to the Skyline which overlooks QT itself. Both pretty basic hikes, but worth it for the views. We were also lucky to experience the lunar eclipse and blood moon, which we drove up Cornets Peak (one of the ski mountains) to take in the astronomical event. The eclipse was amazing and looking into the depths of space always puts things into perspective for me if also making me feel a bit insignificant haha. But the most stunning part was the milky way, which I managed to capture a pretty sick photo of. 

View from Queenstown Hill
Super Blood Moon and the Milky Way

The big one though was doing a Bungy Jump. Emilio and I had vowed to do it while on the road trip, and although after getting to QT Emilio soon left to go back to Wanaka, we have seen each other numerous times since seeing as he is only an hour away. On one of his visits, we had the Ben Nevis Bungy booked, with AJ Hacked, the company which founded bungy. We figured if you are going to do a bungy you might as well do a big one. The easy choice being the highest in NZ and the 14th tallest in the world. 134 m drop with an 8.5-second freefall, ridiculous. A bungy is something I’ve always wanted to do, but it’s always the one thing that has scared me the most. I’ve skydived 3 times now and even the first time I wasn’t phased, but for some reason, the thought of a bungy scared me. I’m not exactly sure what it was that scared me. I’m not afraid of heights, or of the equipment breaking and plummeting to my death. So there was no real logical reason as to why I was nervous to do one. The conclusion I’ve come to has two parts. Part 1, is that every human instinct tells you not to throw yourself headfirst off a really high ledge. Part 2 for me is the fact you have to be the one to decided to throw yourself off the ledge. No one is forcing you to do it, no one is going to push you, and unlike a skydive, you aren’t attached to someone who basically throws you out of the plane. It’s a battle against yourself and your mind. I think I was more scared of the thought of having to deal with myself if I didn’t jump. I didn’t want to face myself afterwards knowing I didn’t have the mental strength to do it. Therefore the two nights before the jump I had dreams about bungy jumping and woke several times each night. On the day of the jump though I was pretty calm. You drive to the gorge where the bungy is and on the way, you pass another bungy run by the company, Kawarau Bridge, the actual birthplace of bungy which is 43m. The bus driver is more than happy to tell you, your bungy shall be 3 times this height, just what you want to hear. When I arrived at the Nevis bungy, I was certain I didn’t want to look down before doing the jump. But that soon changed and I forced myself to take a peek out toward the suspended platform in the middle of the gorge. I was actually happy I did, as although it was high, it wasn’t as high as I was expecting which eased my mind. It would have also been impossible to avoid, so I’m glad I got it out the way early. You then have to make your way over to the suspended platform via gondola which ramps up the tension a little. Once in the hut, you get strapped up a little then wait around as others jump. The sequence is in weight order, heaviest to lightest, so being one of the lighter ones, I had to wait until second to last. It was great seeing everyone go and come back up buzzing, but as time went on it added to my nerves. I would have been last, but the lady before me got a bit nervous and changed her mind. Fair play to her she went again after me, which I think takes more balls but it didn’t help me waiting around. Then it was my turn, I sat down in the chair, got my legs strapped together and we were off. From sitting in that chair to safely coming back up, it’s all a bit of a blur. Once I sat down and took a few deep breathes while being harnessed, it almost became an out of body experience, you aren’t really thinking anymore, you’re just trying to stay calm and not really processing what is about to happen. You swing off the chair and waddle over to the ledge, like a penguin as your legs are tied. You say to yourself don’t look down, but as you waddle to the edge you have to, to ensure your feet land safely on the precipice of the platform. But even doing so you don’t really register how far down the ground is. There are a few photos, but you’re not really paying attention, just taking some deep breaths. Then the countdown begins from 5, I had in my head just jump before he even gets to 1. So by 2, I’m off. Leaping like a circus performer off a 134m ledge. Letting out one of the biggest expletives I’ve ever given in my life haha. The next 15 seconds are a blur. The wind screams past your face, the ground approaches fast, but also you don’t have time to acknowledge it and its sensory overload. The bungy cord starts to take up the slack and kick in. Your body jerks a little violently. But then for the briefest of moments time stands still. Before you’re recoiling 80m back into the sky. Relived everything worked, letting out an outburst of emotion. You then fall again, this time pure elation and adrenaline coursing through your body. It’s the best feeling you’ve ever had. On the second recoil, you remember you have to yank a cord releasing your feet. This allows you to be hoisted back up after the bungy, upright and not like a fish caught on a line. You succeed in doing this at the apex of the second recoil and fall down once more. The bouncing stops and you’re just suspended in the middle of the most beautiful valley, trying to make sense of the last 30 seconds. Tears form in your eyes as the elation and adrenaline continue to take hold and this feeling of warmth and pure joy sweeps over you. On the journey back up you marvel at the view and try to savour the moment a little longer. Before you know it your back in the relative safety of the suspended platform, proud that you’ve just undertaken one of the best things in your life. It’s moments like that I live for and which I hope to collect as many as possible during my lifetime, with the hope that on my death bed I’m able to remember them all and smile one last time. 

Just like that the bungy was done, the best and craziest thing I’ve ever done and to do it with Emilio was great. It just cemented a friendship that will now last a lifetime. It’s crazy to think the first person I met walking out the airport door, I ended up travelling across a country with and sealing it with a bungy jump. It was a real symbiotic relationship for the 2 weeks we travelled together. I was there to listen and help him start the road to getting over his heartbreak and he was there to remind me what it’s like to travel and be the best companion at the start of my solo trip in a foreign land. Emilio is quite the traveller having visited over 70 countries, to my mere 31, so I was able to draw lots of inspiration and advice from him. We had such a sick time and although for the last few weeks Emilio has continued on his travels leaving me in QT, we have seen each other several times since, however, he soon flies home to Australia. Emilio firstly thank you, my friend, for driving me down to QT I’m forever grateful. Thank you for being a great travel partner and sharing some amazing moments with which I’ll never forget. You truly are a wonderful human being with a great heart and soul. I’m very much looking forward to grabbing a beer somewhere around the world with you again. 

We shall leave that there for the first NZ blog, there are bound to be loads more to come as I could write forever about this place. Hence I think this is one of the longest blogs I’ve written, so thanks for bearing with it. In the coming week’s I’ll start my snowboarding, so be sure to check out my Instagram. Again if people could give it a follow or share that would be amazing. The same goes for this blog, either subscribing via email or following the blog via WordPress, even sharing a blog post on Facebook. These next 6 months seeing as I have the time (besides all the snowboarding) I’m going to focus a lot on my creative side so any bit of support I’m forever grateful. 

Till next time. 

6 thoughts on “New Zealand – I Finally Made It

Add yours

  1. Wow 😮 wow 😮 wow Calum fabulous blog loved reading it. Keep yourself safe when snow boarding down those mountains oh n no more Bungy jumps please 😍. Lots of love mum 😘😘😘

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fabulous blog enjoyed reading it. Looks beautiful scenery and you certainly made the most of your first days in NZ. I’m sure you will have a great time in the snow snow boarding and ski lessons. Looking forward to next blog to hear of your latest adventures. Take care love N&G xxxxx

    Liked by 1 person

  3. How amazing Calum … you certainly know how to live ! It all looks stunning and your blog captures the mood and atmospheric journey so well.
    Made me quite emotional !
    Love how tuned in you are to your inner self and being and doing what makes you happy.
    Enjoy taking in all there is on this next adventure and especially learning to snow board. Stay safe, happy and most of all keep true to yourself.
    Much love as always Deb and Jon xxxx

    Liked by 1 person

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