To hell and back on a ferry…

I think it’s fair to say that boats have not been my friend on this trip and, despite our last blog post detailing the wonderful experiences we have encountered so far, the mishaps and misadventures should not go unmentioned.

It all started one week into our travels on an innocent whale watching tour. I won’t go into tremendous detail but, with a combination of high winds, massive waves and an unruly driver, I found myself flung from my seat and, long story short, the day ended with five hours spent in a Sydney A&E department and a fractured rib on my part.

My boat nightmare, however, did not end there. Our ‘Deep South’ trip in the last few days saw our entire travel group sign their lives away mid ferry-crossing in genuine fear that we would not reach our destination before meeting the perils of the Pacific Ocean. Let me paint you a picture: we wake up early to board the bus, greeted by grey skies, dark clouds and strong winds. After some long, tedious hours on the bus, we arrive in Invercargill. No description will encompass the dire bleakness of this town so just take my word for it. We reach the ferry terminal in incredibly high winds and sheets of rain, unsure of whether or not we would even be able to cross. Just to be clear, we had been promised a beautiful, natural environment on the other side with amazing bird life and the chance to see kiwis in their natural environment. We had no reason to be jaded at this point and so we were willing to risk the ‘bumpy’ ferry to Stewart Island. Man, if I could turn back time.

Admittedly, the incident with the whale watching has made me particularly nervous of any potentially rough sea crossing so I was a bit of a mess from the start. What I mean is, I spent the entire hour journey staring intently at the feathered pattern on my rucksack, maniacally repeating the mantra ‘you are ok, your bum is still on the seat, you will not fall again’ over and over, whilst simultaneously (and very irrationally) wishing the boat would capsize just to escape being on it any longer. Due to the fact I did not look up from my bag for the entire hour, I was oblivious to the drama that was unfolding around me. In every direction, people were being sick, waves were crashing over the entire height of the boat (‘ferry’ was not an accurate description of the fishing boat-type vessel we found ourselves on) and George, sat one seat away from me, relaxed towards the end of the journey only when she had inwardly made peace with the fact that she was going to die before reaching our destination. When we eventually did reach the other side, every face I could see was white, some with a genuine tinge of green.

So, whilst we had made it to our destination alive, what greeted us was not the tranquil, natural beauty we had been promised. In short, Stewart Island was the sleepiest, most dull place we have visited (George suggested using the word ‘shithole’ here – I was trying to be a little more descriptive but, ultimately, she is exactly right) and damn-well not worth the hell we had entailed to get there!

The following day we had the ordeal of the return journey which to say we were all dreading would be a great understatement. Again, we dealt with the massive waves and the filling of many sick bags but, truthfully, this trip was not as bad. We were all just relieved to be back on the mainland and have all solemnly vowed never to return to Stewart Island.

So, as I said, my track record with boats on this trip has not been great – I decided against the white-water rafting this afternoon, at least until my rib has healed! (George, on the other hand, has braved the waves!) I am slowly beginning to overcome this newly-developed fear though. I am pushing myself to go on journeys which can be guaranteed not to be rough – yesterday, I went on a speedboat to see some icebergs and I survived! Unfortunately, with New Zealand being made up of islands, we have not escaped the perils of sea voyage yet but we can only hope that the worst has passed. Wish us luck!


Starlings fly south for the winter…

It has officially been one month since we landed in Sydney, Australia, on the other side of the world, after booking our flights not six weeks previously. We now find ourselves in the second country on our itinerary; I am currently writing this form a cute, independent café in Queenstown, New Zealand! The last month has been jam-packed and crazy fun and has gone unbelievably fast! 

As a quick introduction for those of you who may only know one half of our travelling duo, George and I first met four years ago at my first ever choir rehearsal with the Starling Singers where George had been singing for a year already. We have since been singing together in choir for 4 years and we don’t plan on stopping on this trip! George had been planning this round the world tour for quite some time as a solo venture but when she asked if I would like to join her for her 6-month trip, I jumped at the chance. We both quit our jobs in London, booked our flights and here we are, already a 6th of the way through our journey.  

After a three-leg flight via Doha and Singapore, we landed in Sydney on the 3rd September. This is where we had our biggest chunk of time so far and, I have to say, I loved the city. Coming from the busy hub of London, George and I both appreciated the laid-back nature and slower pace of Sydney. We got straight to exploring and hit all the major attractions while we were there: we climbed Sydney Harbour Bridge (a personal highlight), saw a show at the Sydney Opera House and tasted the good grape juice the Hunter Valley region had to offer, among many other things.

Our next stop was Melbourne, attracting us with its artsy vibe and cool coffee shops. We made great use of our limited time here, taking two day-trips, one along The Great Ocean Road and the other to Phillip Island and the famous Penguin Parade. The Phillip Island tour was a real highlight for both of us and George still holds this up as her best day in Australia. Our last day in Melbourne was, admittedly, largely spent madly planning the New Zealand leg of our trip as we had no concrete plans for when we landed the following day. However, it all came together and made us realise just how quickly things can be planned whilst travelling. We found ourselves in Auckland with a Stray bus pass in our hands that would get us around pretty much the entire north and south islands in as little or as much time as we wanted.

So, from Auckland, we travelled north to the beautiful Bay of Islands where we enjoyed the incredible scenery and the best weather of our trip so far (Australia is surprisingly cold in September – guess we should have done more research ahead of time!). We spent a couple of nights in the quiet seaside town of Paihia where we also got our first taste of Maori culture. After this, we headed for the south island on an exhausting overnight flight; luckily the south island is so breathtakingly beautiful, our energy was restored in our first bus trip straight after stepping off the plane!  

Here is a whistle-stop rundown of our south island journey so far: Kaikoura brought us within touching distance of hundreds of fur seals and led us on a scenic coastal walk in this small fishing town; Picton was another cute little port town with long walks and the best beach I have found to sit and read my book; Abel Tasman provided what I consider to be probably my favourite day so far with a stunning 3-hour trek and a 2-hour kayak through the national park, followed by seeing thousands of star fish on the beach at low tide – it really was magical; Franz Josef was our next major stop and what a stop it was – a helicopter ride to the famous glacier with a 3-hour trek on the ice was unlike anything I have ever done, just an incredible experience. I honestly cannot get over the immense natural beauty of New Zealand that comes with every turn we take in this awesome country.

And now I find myself in Queenstown, looking out onto the pedestrianised, shopping streets, lined by the amazing Southern Alps in the near distance and cannot quite believe I am on the other side of the world, the six month trip now well underway. I couldn’t think of a more beautiful and buzzing town to write our first blog post in; such was the inspiration of the town that I decided to write the whole month’s rundown in one sitting! If you have made it this far, thank you for sticking with it – I promise the next posts won’t be so long and, now that the ball has started rolling, they should come much more regularly than once a month! Until then, tomorrow’s flight takes us Songbirds to Milford Sound and onto the deep south of the south island (apologies for the cheesiness of that sentence – it had to be done!) Anyway, on we go… 

Danielle x