(Australia) Melbourne >>> Geelong >>> (New Zealand) Christchurch >>> Nelson [Housesit with Bailey]
(Special 2 Week Edition)
1/21 – Ultimate Frisbee and Penguin Spotting in Saint Kilda!
1/22 – Exploring on the Great Ocean Road and Seeing the Twelve Apostles!
1/23 – Fly to Christchurch, New Zealand!
1/24 – 1/31 – Exploring the Christchurch Area and Endlessly Searching for a Decent Campervan!
2/1 – Buying a Campervan and Driving up to Nelson!
2/2 – 2/4 – Enjoying the Housesitting Life and Skyping with Family + Friends Back Home
Ultimate Frisbee and Penguin Spotting in Saint Kilda!
+ In the morning, Corey got up and walked to the Europcar rental location to pick up our car. It was barely more expensive to rent a car for 2 days as opposed to 1 so although we weren’t driving down to Philip Island like originally planned, we figured we’d still rent it for 2 days and use it to get around town before we use it on the Great Ocean Road.
+ Once he picked up the car, Corey drove to a few kilometers north of the city to a park where a big Ultimate Frisbee group was going to be playing. He had found the meet up online and was excited to play for the first time in over a year!
+ After playing 2 games (and dominating! U-S-A! U-S-A!) he drove back down south to the hostel where Liz had been having a lovely morning relaxing with a book and coffee.
+ For lunch we had those wings from the local Coles grocery store one last time (Corey’s absolutely favorite! Even better than frozen pizza!).
+ Most of the day from that point was spent inside on our devices taking care of anything and everything we needed to do before we’d be departing Australia and traveling into New Zealand in just 2 days. We also did laundry, posted a lot more picture updates and did some searching online for campervans to buy in Christchurch.
+ Instead of the 4 hour RT drive it would’ve been down to Philip Island (plus the expensive admission costs to actually see the penguins), we had found out just last night that we could view the penguins from the end of the pier right here in Saint Kilda! None of the guidebooks or blogs we’d read about Melbourne had mentioned that and we were happy we found out about it when we did to save us the time and money of going down there.
+ So a little before sunset, we drove over to the pier and walked alllll the way out to the end (it was quite long). There was already a very large crowd of people already gathered along the walkway and bleacher area (apparently it’s not so secret) waiting to see the little penguins. Some of the little chicks had already emerged from their hiding holes in the rocks to await their parents return from the ocean to feed them.
+ There were also some park rangers around to ensure no one messed with the penguins too much and to provide red lights to view the penguins (you couldn’t shine normal white light on them). For about 90 minutes we hung out waiting and watching as a few penguins trickled in 1 by 1 and hopped up the rocks and into their hidden fortresses. Although it wasn’t nearly a “parade” like we would’ve seen on Philip Island, it was still neat to see them and be so close (only a couple feet away!).
+ Most of the restaurants were closed now so we didn’t have a lot of options for dinner and chose to just get some pizzas to go from Dominos. While waiting for them to be made, we wandered over to the park nearby and ended up seeing a bunch of wild and very aggressive possums! They would actually trot towards us getting closer and closer until we made noise and stomped our feet to scare them away! We also saw more huge bats in the trees just hanging out merely feet above our heads. So close you could make our their furry ears and hands and watch them climb all along the branches! No one else walking by even seemed to care but these bats still impressed us!
+ While driving back to the hostel, we saw a fox crossing the road. He was headed out towards the penguin area! (The ranger had told us foxes and wild cats were the biggest threats to the penguins and liked to steal eggs and go after the babies! Oh no!)
+ At the hostel, we enjoyed our pizza and watched an episode of OitNB before going to sleep to prepare for our long day tomorrow!
Exploring on the Great Ocean Road and Seeing the Twelve Apostles!
+ We’d chose to rent a car and explore the Great Ocean Road ourselves as opposed to going on a group tour, because it would be much cheaper this way. Plus it allowed us to skip the things we weren’t interested in and spend longer at the places we were.
+ Still, we knew it would be a long day so we woke up early and ate breakfast, packed our bags, and checked out of the hostel. We were already outside of Melbourne before 10 driving along the highway heading towards the beginning of the Great Ocean Road.
+ Our first stop was at Bell’s Beach, a pretty and popular beach for surfing or sunbathing. It also had a nice lookout up on top of the cliff that allowed us to see for miles down the rocky beach.
+ Then we continued driving southwest, passing many scenic overlooks and campervans along the way. The next pull in we made was to see the Split Point Lighthouse. It was situated on a cliff point and had some beautiful overlooks as well. You could see crystal clear turquoise water in almost every direction you looked!
+ While driving along the road, we passed underneath the Memorial Arch and decided to turn off the highway for a stop at Erskine Falls. This waterfall was over 300 feet tall and a popular detour. We hiked to the bottom and tip-toed our way along the rocky river to the base of the falls to take in the view from the bottom.
+ Kennett River was our next destination because there were wild Koalas in the area. After parking and walking along a gravel road for only a few minutes, we managed to spot one only 20 feet up above us in the tree! After snapping a bunch of pics, we kept walking and eventually spotted another, and another, and so on. In the end, we saw probably 6 or 7 wild Koalas! Most were sleeping, but we did see some climbing around and eating which was neat.
+ On our way back to the car we spotted some vibrant red Parrots! Liz recognized these from a bird guide she’d seen earlier and these were pretty much the last types of birds we had left to see in Australia! Cool! Before leaving, we got some popsicles at the Koala Kafe nearby to cool us down then it was back to the car!
+ We stopped in Apollo Bay for lunch and after walking the coastal strip of restaurants and shops, we decided on a local restaurant offering a Seafood Value Platter. We didn’t know what to expect when ordering, but when it came our it was pretty big and ended up being quite tasty too!
+ Further down the road, Corey stopped to hike the 1 km loop in Maits Rainforest. Liz didn’t feel like hiking so she relaxed in the car listening to all the rainforest sounds outside. The hike was nice and had lots of lush greenery and tons of Monkeytail tree ferns!
+ Drove 90 minutes further west along the road until we reached Gibson Steps, a popular spot to visit. We weren’t that impressed because they were pretty much just stone steps along the cliff down to the beach. So rather than climb all 82 of them down and back up, we just hopped back in the car and continued 5 minutes further to the main attraction of the whole drive.
+ The Twelve Apostles were the most famous stopover along the Great Ocean Road and the most popular time to view them was right around sunset. We were here about an hour before sunset and walked along the ridge-top pathway admiring the stunning views on both sides. Although there aren’t actually 12 rock apostles to view (time and weather have eroded or destroyed some and left only about 7), the landscape was still very impressive and iconic Australian.
+ We wanted to visit the Loch Ard Gorge before sunset so we got back in the car and drove 10 minutes further down the Great Ocean Road. Here, you could actually walk down to the beach and inside a cave! Corey joined up with a group of rowdy Australians and explored the inside of one cave, and then afterwards rejoined Liz, who was exploring up on the ridge, to watch the sunset.
+ The sunset was spectacular! One of the best we’d seen in a while with the entire sky turning purple and orange and the sun setting right behind 2 of the tall rocks jutting up from the sea in the middle of the gorge. It was a wonderful way to end not only our Great Ocean Road trip, but our 6.5 weeks in Australia too!
+ It was now already after 9 pm and we still had a 2.5 hour drive back east towards the hotel we had booked in Geelong. We stopped along the way at McDonalds for a quick dinner and to use their wifi.
+ We finally made it to the hotel only to found the office closed! There was a sign on the door saying that our reservation was considered a no show and had been canceled since we didn’t check in before 9 or tell them we’d be late. Nothing on our reservation paperwork stated that we needed to do that and their hotel was listed as being 24 hours on google, so we were quite angry.
+ We tried calling the emergency number and knocking on the door, but nobody answered either. All the other hotels in the region were also closed so we had no choice but to sleep in our car in their parking lot. So, although we were frustrated and disappointed, we put on our eye masks, leaned our seats back, and went to sleep on our last night here in Australia.
Fly to Christchurch, New Zealand!
+ We woke up in a much better mood having slept surprisingly well in our little Kia Rio rental car. It was about 9:30am and the sun was finally starting to make the car too warm to sleep in anymore, so we moved it over a few spots into the shade.
+ After only 2 or 3 minutes sitting in the shade, we were approached by a very rude hotel maid demanding “who are you people?!”. We explained our situation and she just kept repeating to go speak to the manager in the office. We debated just leaving since it was time to go anyway, or going into the office. We decided to go speak to him since we hadn’t done anything wrong.
+ Corey spoke to the guy and basically came to an agreement that it was Expedia’s fault for not relaying vital check in info to us and not providing our contact info to the hotel. Then we left without any problems.
+ After a quick stop at a gas station and Subway for some lunch later on, we drove to the airport and returned the car.
+ Once through security, we were disappointed to find there were no lounges that would accept our Priority Pass card here in Melbourne! We finally had the physical card with us and now we couldn’t use it, lol.
+ So until the flight departed, we used the free airport wifi, posted some updates and got ready for our departure from Australia and arrival to New Zealand!
+ New Zealand was the #1 destination we wanted to visit on this RTW trip and we were both so excited to finally be going to New Zealand! Especially Corey, who had been looking forward to this visit for 15+ years!
+ Once on the plane, we settled in for the 2.5 hour flight during which Corey worked on the blog and Liz read all the notes about buying the Campervan and things we wanted to do in New Zealand. We also got some free meals and drinks which was a nice surprise!
+ Before we had even finished working on the plane, we were approaching New Zealand and put our devices away to take in the breath-taking scenery outside the window! We passed over many snow-capped mountains and glacial lakes, only a few minutes after seeing the beach!
+ When we’d landed and gotten through border control and customs, we waited in the main hall for our kiwi friend Rosie to pick us up. We had met her while hiking the Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia and she lived here in Christchurch! Rosie ended up getting called into work at the last minute (such is doctor life) and so her roommate Anna picked us up instead! Anna was super friendly and we chatted about New Zealand and other parts of the world as she drove us to our hostel. Hopefully we’d meet up with her and Rosie again later in the week!
+ We panicked when we got to the reception doors of the hostel and saw that it was closed already. We couldn’t possibly have this happen to us twice in 2 days, could we!? This time, they had left a much nicer note saying to call a number for assistance. The number didn’t actually work but after some help from some other people staying there we managed to talk to the staff and get shown to our room. It was only like 8:30pm but everything was already shut down! Crazy!
+ The staff informed us the grocery stores and restaurants all closed at 9 so if we wanted anything we had to hurry. The closest thing was Subway so Liz went in to order while Corey ran to the store and got a drink. What a different lifestyle to have all the stores close before the sun even sets!
+ Once we finished our dinner we finished the blog work and internet research we had been working on before and then showered and got in bed around midnight.
+ Even though we had jumped 2 hours ahead with our flight today, we were still tired and knew we’d need our rest for the coming days of hectic searching for campervans!
1/24 – 1/31
Exploring the Christchurch Area and Endlessly Searching for a Campervan!
+ Over the course of these 8 days, we devoted almost all of our attention and effort into finding a campervan. We wanted to stay in 1 place in Christchurch that had decent wifi and was within walking distance to the city. Luckily we found a great hostel called Old Country Backpackers and used credit card points to pay for what ended up being 9 nights of accommodation! It served as a great base to relax and use the internet but also close enough to restaurants and grocery stores.
+ We did have one fun day of exploring Christchurch and walking around looking at all of the buildings and sights. The city has been vastly impacted by earthquakes, especially the destructive 2011 quake, and still hadn’t fully recovered. This was evident by many empty buildings and vacant lots, but none more so than the Cathedral located directly in the city. It was in partial ruins and fenced off from anyone getting too close, should the rest of it decide to collapse. It served as a reminder to the locals and tourists of that painful day when many lives were lost and the city’s economy and identity were flipped upside down.
+ We also had a day where we met up with our friend Rosie and rode with her out towards the eastern coast and a town named Sumner. Along the way, we picked up some famous NZ Tip Top ice cream from a favorite shop of hers and then ate it as we strolled along the beach (doing our best attempts to block the blowing sand). The beach was nice and had a cool cave we were able to walk through since it was low tide. Then we hopped back in her car as she drove us uphill along the cliffs past one incredible overlook after another. She also showed us some old shelters/huts built into the mountain leftover from World War II. It was a great tour and an area we wouldn’t have even known about or explored by ourselves. It’s always great to get shown around by a local!
+ Besides those few days exploring ChCh, the majority of our time was spent looking for a decent campervan to buy! To summarize the search for a campervan the best we can, we would just say it was about 6 full days of around the clock browsing, analyzing and decision making. We looked online at multiple backpacker Facebook groups (including ones only in French or German), TradeMe, BackpackerBoard, and a host of other sites. We also checked in hostels to look at the fliers that people had posted and even spotted a few vans for sale around town that we inquired about.
+ The difficult part was that we were searching for a diamond in the rough (like pretty much every other backpacker). We wanted a van with low kilometers (under 300,000 preferably) , not that old (made within the last 20 years), and not outrageously expensive. We also had a specific type of inside setup we preferred since we’d done so many campervan trips before and had learned what we liked and what got annoying after a few days. We thought our previous campervanning experience in Europe and Australia would make our decision easier but in the end we think that ignorance would’ve most likely been bliss as we would’ve been less stringent and maybe settled on a van earlier.
+ We were also worried about a potential van’s resell value since we’d be selling in Mid April up in Auckland and that time of year was the low season for buying/selling vans. That meant prices would be lower and the risk of losing money was greater. So we didn’t want to get stuck with a van nobody else wanted or end up losing thousands of dollars.
+ The first decision was choosing between a self contained vehicle or non self contained. The former meant that the van would not only have a bed inside of it like they all did, but would also include a portable toilet, solar shower, and a sink with a tank for fresh water and grey (used/dirty) water. Having a self contained van meant that you could camp at many more places around NZ and usually not have to pay any fees for campsites or holiday parks. We decided we wanted a self contained van, even though they were more expensive.
+ While we were looking through the hundreds of vans online, we would set up appointments to view them. At first we’d have to walk the 20-30 minutes into a specific part of town to meet the sellers, but we finally wised up and had them come to us. We would schedule the meetings about 45 minutes- 1 hour apart which would be enough time to view the van, ask the right questions, and even test drive it if we were interested enough. Sometimes we viewed 5 or 6 different vans per day, but none of them were hitting all of the check marks we were looking for. Unfortunately most of the vans looked like they were about to fall apart!
+ Eventually on the 31st, we knew our time in Christchurch was running out before we had to head up to Nelson the next day to start our housesit. So we picked our favorite so far and took it to a nearby mechanic we’d spoken with already to get a pre-purchase inspection (to ensure the van was in working order and wouldn’t fail on us while driving around for 2.5 months). After the inspection we were disappointed to learn it had failed miserably. 22 things were wrong with it and the mechanic advised not to touch it with a 10 foot pole. So we told the sellers we wouldn’t be purchasing it and continued the search.
+ There was another van that wasn’t our favorite but the sellers were getting extremely desperate to sell before they had to fly out of New Zealand and had significantly lowered their price. We got that van inspected and again the mechanic found about 17 things wrong with it, many that would fail the required WOF (Warrant of Fitness- required for each vehicle in NZ) that was needed before we could resell. The couple offered to lower the price again to offset the repair costs, but we still felt uneasy about purchasing it since who knows what else might fail during our travels. So as tempting as it was to pay such a low amount, we decided to pass and continue the search.
Buying a Campervan and Driving up to Nelson!
+ Finally on the morning of February 1st we took our 3rd van in for an inspection. This van was much newer and had way less kilometers than the first 2 and as such was thousands of dollars more expensive. This van was self contained and the layout checked enough boxes to seem to be a promising tiny house for the next 2.5 months. Despite the much higher price tag, we felt good about it’s resell value and that it would keep us safe during our travels. As expected, it passed the pre-purchase inspection and we decided we had found our van! Soon this 2008 Mazda Bongo would be ours!
+ After coming to an agreement on the final price with the seller, a french backpacker named Hugo, we left the van with the mechanic to get a tune up (oil change, etc). We headed to an ATM to withdraw the rest of the cash we needed to complete the sale.
+ Walking back from the ATM with cash shoved in every pocket and concealed area (aka Liz’s bra) we met Hugo back at our hostel to make the exchange. What an experience to see all those NZ bank notes all laid out! We counted the cash and shook hands with Hugo and watched as he walked away with pockets bulging with thousands of dollars in cash! Hope he found a safe place to put that until he could deposit it!
+ Keys in hand, we headed to the post office to pay the small fee and switch the car registration to Corey’s name.
+ Hooray! Now our search was over and we own the van! We paid NZD$7800 for this white 2008 Mazda Bongo with only 140,000 km. We were only the 2nd NZ owners so it was good to know it had not been used and abused by a line of backpackers.
+ Once the van was ours, we immediately loaded up all our stuff from the hostel and started the 6 hour journey north up towards Nelson. You could normally drive up along the East coast and get treated to beautiful coastal views but since the earthquake in Kaikora November 2016, the roads were all closed due to significant landslides. So instead we took the road up through the middle of the country that went up and down lots of mountainous roads. It was a pretty drive and along the way we passed lots of sheep and some sort of big, beefy deer that a lot of farmers had in fenced pens.
+ Our time in Christchurch had been very stressful and we were looking forward to finally starting the fun part of visiting New Zealand. Overall, we found the local Christchurch Kiwis very friendly and welcoming, but with not too many things to do, we understood why most backpackers use the city solely as an entry or departure point for the rest of their trip. The counter clockwise path that we’d travel around the South Island would bring us back through Christchurch anyhow so we could hopefully pop back by for a more relaxing experience in the future.
+ Around 8 pm we finally rolled into Nelson and parked at the house where we’d be housesitting for the next 8 days. We had devoted so much thought and energy into the campervan search, we hadn’t been focusing on the upcoming housesit like we normally did. But the house, neighborhood, and setting took us by surprise as it was perched atop a big mountain with 180 degree views on both sides overlooking the town and the ocean. It was incredible!
+ We met the owners, Neil and Lee-Anne, and their fluffy ragdoll cat named Bailey and got the tour around their very nice and very large house. What an amazing place we were going to have the opportunity to live in! Housesitting was the best!
+ After the tour we ate some Subway really quick and then hung out with the owners a little more while they told us all about the best things to do and places to go around the area. They were a very adventurous couple like us and had hiked and explored just about every corner of New Zealand! In fact the reason we were there was because they were going to be doing an RV trip down south and meeting up with family for a few days of R&R. Then we all retired for the night and we laid down on probably the softest bed we’d been in for months (at least since the 2nd Sevenoaks Housesit!).
2/2 – 2/4
Enjoying the Housesitting Life: Skyping with Family + Friends Back Home
+ In the morning we woke up and said goodbye to our hosts and then relaxed on their comfy recliners enjoying the strong internet signal and perfect weather. The owners liked to keep all their doors and windows open throughout the day and with the perfect temperature outside and cool breeze, we completely understood why.
+ Over the next few days we caught up on sleep (our past few days in Christchurch had been 8 am – 2-3 am type days), spent many many hours Skyping with family + friends back home, and going through our campervan to get it ready to live in for the next few months. The French guy we bought it from had built up the van himself and as such still had many of the tools, wood scraps, and wires for additional work to be done to the van, should we desire to do so.
+ There were a few modifications we wanted to do to the van, but neither of us was particularly handy so we weren’t sure we had the know-how to do what we wanted. So for now we just washed everything and inventoried everything already in the van and anything we may need to buy.
+ We also relished the chance to use a big, fully equipped kitchen for the last time before we’d only have access to our small kitchen set up in the back. We made lots of yummy meals throughout our stay including 2 Mexican meals. Our favorites!
+ Our favorite part of the day was sunset when we could simply step out onto the balcony and take in the stunning view as the sun dipped behind the distant mountains. Then we’d retreat back inside and close everything up before the wind picked up by 20 mph like it seemed to do every night.
+ Their cat Bailey slowly warmed up to us and we enjoyed having her company since we missed Tumbles back home (who was celebrating his 7th birthday!). The only work here outside of feeding, petting and caring for Bailey was keeping the immaculate garden watered. Not a tough gig!