We were lucky to come across Casa de Mara! After crossing from Pucon to San Martin de los Andes in Argentina (beautiful scenery, Riona is constantly overwhelmed by the Andes), we decided to slow things down a little and spend some time doing a Spanish course. We did some research and found a lot of good things said about La Montaña, a Dutch owned school in Bariloche. A number of people who´d written about the school also wrote about the immersion programme that they organised, where you could stay with a local family for the duration of your course. One home in particular sounded nice, with a great cook as host and large double room with its own bathroom and kitchenette – it sounded ideal and staying with a local family would be something different, so we rang the school, booked four days classes and a week’s homestay, and after taking another bus down to Bariloche were in our new home for the week trying to make sense of our surrogate madre, Mara!
Archive for September, 2008
The second part of our trip began as we touched down in Chile on the 7th September, five hours before we left New Zealand (we crossed the date line so we left at 5pm and arrived at 12.30pm the same day!). We had heard that Chile was one of the most expensive countries in South America so we only spent a week there, even though we really liked it. We had also heard that Santiago (the capital) was not the most exciting place to visit, although an immediate positive for us was the sense of history exuding from all the old buildings and monuments. These things are so rare in Australia and New Zealand, and you don´t realise how much they add to a place until you spend time in countries that don´t have them.
Ten days on the South Island left us with only four days on the North Island but it was enough to do what we went for, a bit of skiing and surfing! After flying from Christchurch to Auckland (the cheapest way of getting there, tickets worked out at 50 NZD each – to get a ferry and bus would have cost us almost twice that much), we rented a car from Ace rentals that even my old Corolla would have given a run for it´s money, but it was cheap and better than relying on the NZ public transport which wouldn´t have worked given the time we had. We left the airport and and headed for Whakapapa, the main skiing area about 6 hours drive away.
The scenery on the North Island is very different to the South, not as pretty (or at least for the parts we managed to see) but very green nonetheless. After doing a few food and coffee stops (the Kiwis do great coffee, make sure you try their ´flat white´ if you´re over there, it´s like a latte but with more coffee and less milk), we visited the Huka falls for a look. Huka falls aren´t very high or wide, but the volume of water that passes through them is ridiculous (about a quarter of a million litres per second!) and worth experiencing – not somewhere you´d want to fall in.
We only had ten days planned for New Zealand´s South Island and wanted to see a lot so we looked into joining a hop-on hop-off touring bus (after chatting to a few people who´d done the same) and ended up going with Stray. There are quite a few companies that do these trips in New Zealand, but this one had the reputation of having a slightly older crowd (with the average age being about 25 instead of 19 – sometimes when you´re at the other end of your twenties you really notice it!). We and about twelve others were whisked around the South Island over ten days by a bus driver and guide called Spike who proved to be a blessing, as he was an ex-driver for the company who was filling in for someone for a few weeks and didn´t hesitate in telling us what was worth going to see or do and what was a complete rip-off (something that most of the other drivers don´t do apparently). He also had a diploma in Maori and knew every legend and story about the place, kind of like a younger, less hairy Eddie Lenihan ;-)
Ten days to see the main sights of the South Island seemed like a very short time at first, but it worked out pretty well as New Zealand requires a healthy budget if you want to spend any amount of time there. (more…)