Category Archives: Features

New Zealand travel tips

Some things are meant to be – and when my Kiwi hairdresser in Brighton told me she was getting married on a beach back home in New Zealand and she needed a good wedding photographer I lept out of my chair, grabbed her and declared “I simply must be your wedding photographer!” OK so I wasn’t quite so crazy – I subtly asked whether she had a photographer yet… But it was the start of something great, and 6 months later I was driving through the Marlborough Sounds in New Zealand in a Jucy campervan on the way to shoot an epic New Zealand destination wedding.

Since it’s a 24-hour flight from the UK I stayed a few weeks in New Zealand to make the most of it, campervanning all over both the north and south islands. Here are a few things I learned:

Jucy campers are awesome. It’s like being in a club, where you wave manically and excitedly to fellow Jucy drivers on the road. Although I once did this while on foot before realising I didn’t have the safety blanket of the Jucy camper around me and the dude just thought I was a nutcase. I ran to my camper and hopped in so he could see I wasn’t a total mental case.

Don’t bother with the DOC (Department of Conservation) campsite pass. It’s a waste of money. You can only use it for campsites that don’t require booking, and the ones that you can use it for are generally pretty dire (mostly pit loos and no showers or kitchens) and only cost $6 per person anyway. Plus the non-DOC campsites are plentiful, cheap ($30-$50 for 2 people) and have hot water showers, kitchens and a great atmosphere. We used Top 10 Holiday Parks a few times, which while tacky, were awesome. This is me on a trampoline at the Lakeview Holiday Park in Wanaka.

Hot water showers are rarely free – keep a few dollar coins handy and practise counting to 5 minutes in your head.

Bring flipflops to wear in the campsite showers.

Wifi is never unlimited and rarely free (if it is free you get a very limited amount of data). If you’re staying at a campsite more than one night it’s worth signing up to the IAC wifi for $5 for 1GB over 24 hours.

Public toilets are generally incredible. They’re clean and nice and don’t smell. Even pit loos aren’t tooooo bad (except on the Tongariro Crossing). There’s even a public loo in Franz Josef that talks to you and plays music while you pee.

If you’re travelling somewhere remote in New Zealand, fill up on petrol first. This isn’t because you can’t get petrol in remote areas, but because they’ll charge you an insane amount for it.

Freedom camping is allowed in most places – just pull up somewhere you won’t be in the way and as long as you have a self-contained camper you’ll be fine. Enjoy! This was our view from a freedom camping spot near Franz Josef:

New-Zealand-Destination-Travel-Photography-262

If you’re driving a Jucy camper, bring pegs and hooks – there’s not a lot of storage space but loads of room to be creative. They’re also super lovely helpful folk, I’m really glad we chose Jucy.

One of the best things we did in New Zealand was swimming with wild dolphins in Kaikoura. I almost didn’t go because I imagined it would be tacky. It wasn’t. It was mindblowing.

One of the worst things we did was Waitamo Glowworm Caves. Yes it was beautiful but each tour has 50 people and there are 3 tours in the caves at any one time. There are other glowworm caves in the country – check those out instead.

If you go to Rotorua be aware that you have to pay to see anything exciting. We arrived at 5pm (just before the attractions closed it turns out), because we thought the hot springs/geysers/mudpools would be public. And it’s not really worth the money to go in.The most beautiful lake we saw was Lake Pukaki on the south island. All the lakes are so blue, but this one was the most stunning, and went on forever – it was huge!

It’s so windy. So windy. Everywhere. Bring hairbands.

There’s a small town called Ross on the south island. It’s probably the coolest small town you’ll visit. This is one of the houses:

Look up at night. You can see the Milky Way on a clear night.

New-Zealand-Destination-Travel-Photography-259

If you google Mirror Lakes New Zealand you’ll see incredible photos of a stunning lake. If you go to the actual Mirror Lakes in Milford Sound it is not the lake on Google images – you want Lake Matheson in Fox Glacier. Whoops.

There are so many beautiful walks in the south island and we didn’t have time to do many at all. Give the south island a few weeks – I would miss the entire north island in favour of more time in the south.

There is only one campsite at Milford Sound, at the Lodge, and it has a permanent “all campsite spaces are full” sign on the road sign. It’s not true – but you do have to get there early-ish (we got there at 4pm) to get a spot. If it really is full, you can camp in the classy information centre car park for $20.

When you find a pretty spot, stick with it. We went to Karangahake Gorge in the north island and it was idyllic, yet we moved on in search of other such beautiful spots near Auckland/Coromandel to spend a sunny afternoon and failed miserably.If you go to Hot Water Beach, get there early. The sand has hot water underneath and you rent a spade and dig your own hot pool. However, half the spots are too hot to touch, half are cold, and a small few are nice and warm. Those spots will be gone if you’re a minute too late! You have to go two hours before low tide to be able to find a spot.

Roadkill is everywhere. We killed two birds, a bunny, a possum and countless bees and butterflies.jucy-camper

Oh god the sandflies. Buy a nice essential oils repellent and don’t open the camper doors at sunset near water if you can help it. We had toilet breaks away from water before driving into our campsites (ones near water) and just hopped into bed from the front seats! Once they’re in your van you’re a gonner. Fly spray (for a house) is a godsend.

If you fly Singapore Airlines you’ll stop at Singapore Changi Airport which has a secret rooftop pool at the Transit Hotel in Terminal 1. Bring your swimmers! They provide a towel.

singapore-airport-pool

Travel writer turned photographer

As some of my readers may know, I have ventured into the world of photography. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before – I’ve always resented being chained to a desk, and while I love working in journalism and being a magazine sub editor, I’m just not getting the creative output I need, except for via this blog of course, and the two books I’m working on…

It was on the trip to Canada that I made the decision to make a career transition. In fact, it was Thomas who suggested it. “You take great photos and you’re really good with people,” he said, as we walked up a mountain behind Lake Louise in Banff. “Why don’t you become a wedding photographer?”

Ruth and Emillie Wedding Greenwich Yacht Club-86

And so here I am, a wedding photographer!

So if you’ve found my travel blog looking for somewhere off the beaten path for your honeymoon, and you haven’t yet booked your photographer, get in touch!

In case you were wondering, my photography business is Anna Pumer Photography. My name’s not Pumer, but my mum’s maiden name is, and it’s pretty damned original (my Lithuanian granddad invented it when he moved to England). So I chose to use it!

And here I am, check me out! www.annapumerphotography.com

Trek America part III – reporting straight from Holland

It’s been a while since I last posted, and there’s a good reason for that: my memory is terrible and I can barely remember what happened on the Trek America trip to the Canadian Rockies in September – and in what order. But I have a little helper in my blog writing today: Thomas! As you might remember (or know, if you were on the trip), Thomas is the Dutch guy who likes wearing checked shirts. I have since seen his wardrobe and counted them – he has eight. And a pair of checked trousers, but I will be making sure they stay in the wardrobe.

Anyway, another thing you should know about Thomas is that he has an incredible memory. In my last post I got several dates and activities mixed up, and this has upset him greatly, so I am going to be editing it so it’s correct – and writing the following installments of the Trek America trip with his help. So here I am, in Holland, blonde beer in hand and surrounded by lots of confused Dutch people, tapping out the blog with Thomas’s help.

So where did I finish the last post on the Canadian Rockies Trek America trip? Oh yes, not being asked for ID when I bought Bailey’s. You’ll be unsurprised to learn that the Bailey’s didn’t last very long at all – especially when I bought hot chocolate and made it with two parts Bailey’s, one part chocolate powder and one part hot milk. Amazing.

Next on the agenda was Wells Gray – a national park centred around adventure and outdoor activities. We met up with our tour guide, Heather, a South African girl who told us a delightful story about how she once used a pit toilet in Belize and fell in. She decided to go into a lot of detail when she told us this story. I won’t go into it, but let’s just say it involved a lot of maggots.

Anyway, Heather first of all took us to see some upstream salmon trying to fly over rocks. She told us most of them don’t make it and they die. The rest get caught and barbequed in Teriyaki sauce.

As usual in these places, there was a public pit toilet that you could smell from 50 metres away, so we took turns to pee 55 metres away from the pit toilets, in the bushes (I discovered that 50m away from every pit toilet in the country is a tree surrounded by toilet paper and stinking of pee. Hence the 55m). We then got back in the van to drive to our next destination – the canoe centre. The plan was to pair up, get in canoes and paddle across a lake for two and a half hours to a remote piece of land that is inaccessible apart from by boat.

I squeezed the biceps of all the boys to see who the best canoe partner would be. Unfortunately Tristan, outdoor enthusiast and canoe instructor, was taken by Erin. And Grant had already picked Julia. Kenneth was part of a couple. The only boy left was Thomas. So I was stuck with him and his zig zag canoeing skills. We were soon being called a married couple by the rest of the group, as we bickered the whole way. Him saying I wasn’t doing anything, and me saying his steering was terrible. We had the booze cooler though – and thinking that was a good thing to be carrying was the only thing we agreed on. We needed it.

Being a competitive group, we raced most of the way and got there much quicker than Heather had expected us to. I think they base their timings on the elderly and infirm.

Arriving at our campsite, which consisted of a couple of benches, a fire pit and – oh joy – a pit toilet, felt like we were in a scene from Lost. There was nowhere to run from the bears here.

The first half hour was spent wrestling each other – literally – for the flattest, softest spot to pitch our tents. Tristan had the best spot, cos he’s good at that sort of thing, and Thomas and Grant nicked our spot because we were too slow at pitching the tent. In the end we found what seemed like a great spot – which turned out to be on a slope, and I spent the night wriggling up the tent from the corner. I also managed to put the cap of my water bottle on wrong and woke up in the morning to jokes that I’d peed the tent. The funny thing is that the same evening, we’d played ‘I have never’ and discovered that three people in the group had had experience of a partner peeing in the bed. Lovely.

Talking of that evening, it was possibly the most drunken and eventful of them all. We found out a lot (too much) about everybody, and with more alcohol came more sordid details. It was just as two of the group started to strip off to go skinnydipping in the freezing cold lake that I decided to slink off to bed.

The next morning the rest of the group was too hungover to get out of bed, so Kathryn and I went for a wander in the woods. It didn’t last very long – too much talk of bears and thoughts of breakfast.

We left straight after breakfast – another canoe trip across the lake. Back in the van, we warmed up and started driving to Wells Gray Ranch, where we were promised steak and beers. On the way we stopped at a waterfall, next to which we cooked hotdogs – with onions and everything. I must admit I barely glanced at the waterfall – the lure of hot dogs far too enticing.

When we got to the ranch, we were given the choice of a free upgrade to a cabin. Sounds luxurious and romantic, doesn’t it? The room had 10 beds, no lights and lots of cobwebs. But it was one degree warmer than the tents, and it had rectangles of foam covered in plastic, which was better than lying on the hard ground with just a skimpy yoga mat.

That night was filled with the promised steak and beer, plus hot chocolate, a warm bar and most importantly, wifi. I quickly shot off an email to my mum. Didn’t want her thinking I was lying dead in a ditch. Again.

Trek America part II – the bear! And other stuff…

Day two with Trek America began the same way all our mornings did: with Thomas and Tristan knocking on our tents to wake us up, and shouting “breakfast!” As became the usual routine, Julia and I stayed in bed just long enough that the boys would have the tea brewed by the time we emerged.

They’d also already undertaken the group’s least favourite task – unloading all the food an cooking equipment from the trailer and setting up the table. We had to keep everything in the trailer, from our food supplies to all our toiletries, because apparently bears like lip balm and toothpaste. I then took up my regular spot at the stove making batches of porridge or everyone. They told me I had to do it because I made the best porridge. In hindsight, this was a very cunning and clever move on their part, and being a sucker for flattery on mine…

After breakfast we bundled into the van to drive to the start of a trek. And five minutes in, what did I spot hiding in the bushes right next to the road? This fella! The elusive bear that tour leader Charlie stresses about for the duration of every trip he leads because all anyone wants is to see a bear, and Charlie when will we see a bear? Charlie where are the bears? Charlie will we see a bear today?? He sidled over to me at dinner the next night (Charlie, not the bear) and said: “You’re a really nice person and all, but the best thing about you is that you spotted that bear. I can now sleep at night. I’m serious. I lose sleep over this.” I felt pretty chuffed. And the gang was happy. Except Tristan, who said, “Yeah it was great seeing a bear and all, but that was just one bear. I want to see lots of bears. I want to see grizzlies and entire families of them.” I’ll see what I can do…

After that, we went to the Kicking Horse River, where we went white-water rafting. I was terrified. Almost pooping my pants. I’m not good with water. There were two options – the tough rapids and the death-defying rapids. I decided there was no way I was doing the second part of the rapids – the deathy one. No way.

I did both. And the worst thing that happened was that Tristan whacked me across the face with his paddle as we went over a rapid.

The rest of the day was spent buying food for dinner and playing with the campground cat, as you do.

The next day, we went for a 12km hike from Emerald Lake (below) to Yoho Pass. It rained and it was all uphill, but I was carrying bear spray, so not only was I the most popular person to walk with, but I also felt super cool and hard. I didn’t look so super cool and hard as I puffed up the hill, but I felt it. I felt it.

Here’s a pic of me with bear spray sticking out the side of my bag. Next to a banana. Don’t get those two mixed up.

We got to the end of the trek and the rain started to seriously come down. This was the point when we realised Charlie (and more importantly, the warm, dry van), wasn’t where he should be. He eventually rolled up, laughing at us, and somehow Tristan was already in the van, dry and laughing even more than Charlie at our unfortunate state.

And so, wet and tired, we travelled to our next campground, in Banff. And had a little group nap on the way…

When we arrived it was still chucking down with rain, and a few people wimped out and got a room in a hostel. The rest of us put up our tents in the rain – then were told they were in the wrong section of the campground and had to re- put up the tents in the rain. Fun.

We cheered ourselves up with a night out on the town. This is a ski-resort town, so it was weird to be there when there was no snow and no tourists. It was all fancy and resorty, and had restaurants with names like Wild Bills. And that’s where we went for dinner…

The next day was a free day, which meant we could go out and enjoy everything that beautiful Banff had to offer. We could hike, we could bike, we could shop, eat, sunbathe. What did we do? Laundry.

Here’s a photo incase you don’t believe me. We finally got out of the laudromat at lunchtime, and followed our noses to a pizza place where you dip the pizza into a mixture of honey and chilli oil. They also had wifi, so we all spent the first half hour furiously emailing people to tell them we were alive, checking Facebook and Googling all the things we’d said “we must google that when we have internet!” about.

Then the gang went our separate ways – Erin and I decided to do the uber-touristy gondola up Sulphur Mountain. It was just as tacky as I’d imagined, and the Japanese tourists were in full force with their cameras at the top. But we got photos of views that my friends later said looked photoshopped, which is always a sign of a good view. I think. (Ok, ok it’s Instagrammed. I admit it.)

We had to rush to get back to the campsite in time for dinner (I was on the cooking crew), and when we got back we saw that Tristan had bought a new T-shirt, which said “same shirt, different day”. We found this funny simply because our tour leader, Charlie, literally wore the same shirt every day. Just as I was having a good giggle at his expense, Charlie pipes up, “Laugh it up, cos your mom called to say she was worried about you because she hasn’t heard from you.” The group erupted into laughter, and the jokes kept on coming, thick and fast, for the remainder of the two weeks. Stuff like, “I don’t know, ask your mum” and mature things like that. Thanks mum. (When I got home I quizzed her about it and she said that wasn’t why she called at all, and that Trek America had taken it upon themselves to contact all the tour leaders.) Still embarrassing. The other group heard about it and asked me later: “Did you hear about that person whose mum called?” Yeah, that was me…

That night we went to the hot springs, which were unfortunately not natural – but they did rent out 1920s bathers. This did not help anyone forget about the mum thing. Anyway, here I am in a woolly bather and being held up by the guys. I know it looks like it, but that dude was not holding my boob. I swear.

We discovered that night, in a haze of steamy gossip, something terrible, something that would prevent us from ever having a good night’s sleep in the tents again: the other Trek America group had pillows and blow-up mattresses. We had yoga mats. Old yoga mats. And nothing else. Then I discovered that Erin and Kathryn from our group were both using three sleeping bags each – four of which were from Trek America. We’d been freezing our butts off with just one! I was waking up every night at 3am shivering! Julia and I couldn’t believe it, and nabbed two bags from them. It was bliss. Everything was right with the world again. Three sleeping bags, I don’t know. Tsh.

The next morning, warm and well-slept, we were up bright and early for a trek at Lake Louise. I’d always wanted to go there, but was disappointed at the amount of tourists. But all we had to do was outwalk all the Americans, as they started dropping off and heading back to the start trembling with hunger. The other tourists didn’t make it further than the perimeter of the lake. So many posed photos to be taken, so little time.

Talking of posed photos, here’s ours… I walked with Grant and Thomas, and we stopped for a well-earned apple pie at the teahouse halfway. Then we carried on up to a glacier and a constantly avalanching mountain. Here it is, in fact!

After Lake Louise came a trip to Lake Moraine, Lake Louise’s even more stunning sister. The idea was to go there and get some pictures and all that, then jump in the icy cold water. In the warmth of the van I found it very easy to be all macho and say I was up for it. When it came to it (and when I discovered the water was now only 2ft deep and I’d have to make a concerted effort to submerge myself) I regretted my decision bitterly. I tried to pretend I’d never agreed to it, but I’d boasted about my braveness so much that no one was going to let me get away with it. I tried to get away with just dipping my feet in, but they were having none of it. Then this happened (pic below):

He dunked me. I breathed in the ice-cold water. A boob fell out. Everyone got pictures.

(No one has noticed the boob pictures yet. They will now I’ve written this. But it can’t get more embarrassing than having your mum call the tour leaders, so do your worst…)

The next day it was on to Jasper. The drive included 100km along the Icefields Parkway, said to be the most scenic drive in the world. But it was Erin’s turn in charge of the music, and she has pretty bad music. I thoroughly enjoyed teasing her for it, as she justified every song to me. “Come on, Garbage are classic!” “But the Black Eyed Peas are awesome.” “Oh but Justin Timberlake is such a great singer.” These aren’t the exact things she said, but in my memory it’s close enough. I found it most amusing. But since this was a beautiful drive, everyone agreed to rip into Erin until she gave in and let Charlie choose some more fitting music. He chose Old Crow Medicine Show. The song Wagon Wheel became our most played, and the theme tune of the whole trip.  I recommend you listen to this song. But never in a city. It would be like knitting with a drug dealer. Or your grandpa using an iPhone. They just don’t go together.

Anyway, the Icefield Parkway was all the superlatives you can think of. It even had a chipmunk. He’s so cute I could eat him. Here he is.

That night, we had homemade burgers and lots more marshmallows. Plus what became the regular gossip session around the campfire. After several ‘my friend once…’ stories, we went to bed to the sound of screaming elk looking for lady elks with whom to spend the night. It sounded like children being murdered. Sleep well!

Mountain biking in Jasper National Park was the plan for the next day. We had two options: the hard trail or the really hard trail. Thomas, Sabrine and I went for the hard trail. It was hard. Near the end, we came across some elk on our trail. Now we had a decision to make: go back a few miles and detour along the highway, or get past the elk. We’d been told every day not to go near them as they’re in mating season and are very dangerous. So what did we do? We went past them. Singing. Apparently this was so they didn’t think we were trying to creep up on them. Later that day we saw a massive male elk wandering around the campsite screaming for a girlfriend. I was just worried that I’d walk right into him on my way to the bathroom at night. Face full of elk. It could happen.

That night turned out to be pretty amazing. Why? Because I learned how to make Baileys shot glasses out of toasted marshmallows. Two of the greatest things known to man. Together. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t easy, and swigging from the bottle before munching a marshmallow soon became the preferred method of getting them in my belly. But one thing did disturb me about the whole thing: I didn’t get IDd for the Baileys. How old do I look?? Don’t answer that.

 

 

And you say he’s just a friend

About a month ago, my dream scenario became a reality: I had no job, no rent to pay and some money in the bank. I realised this would never happen to me again, so I booked a month-long trip to Canada. Of course.

I decided, having done the solo backpacking thing last year (and written a book about it, which is currently gathering dust in my macbook docs folder), that I wanted something more organised and more social. As well as something active. After trudging through several yoga retreat websites, hiking holidays and travelling meetup groups, I decided to go with Trek America. The itinerary was perfect: two weeks of hiking, biking, canoeing, swimming and most importantly, toasting marshmallows over a campfire.

I booked the trip two weeks before it was due to start, and almost puked with excitement. This was my dream trip. Canada, the Rockies, campfires, marshmallows. I’d also planned a week after the trip to drive down the coast from Seattle to San Francisco, cos I knew I wouldn’t want to go home straight away.

I’m a very impatient person, so thankfully there wasn’t long to wait before I was hurtling towards Seattle at 35,000ft.

I changed planes in San Francisco, and had to go through the dreaded customs routine. I was ready for anything they could throw at me, passport clamped in sweaty palms. I stepped up to the customs guy:

“What are you coming to the USA for?”

“Holiday. Just a holiday.”

“Ok and how long will you be staying?”

“Three weeks. Three and a half weeks. Well, 24 days.”

“And where will you be staying?”

“I’m staying with a friend in Seattle.”

“What’s your friend’s name?”

Gulp. “Matt. Matt Aldman.”

“And ya’ll are just friends, he’s not a boyfriend? Or maybe he will be?”

“Nope, just friends.”

Sings: “You say he’s just a friend, and you say he’s just a friend…” (Hands me my passport and says “you can go through”)

Continues singing even louder, “Oh baby you! You got what I nee-eed! And you say he’s just a friend…”

I walk off to catch my next flight, chuckling to myself. A good start!