New Zealand Part 2: Is This Real Life?
Trip Start Feb 08, 2011
15Trip End Jun 21, 2011
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Where I stayed
Motueka hostel (1 night)
Greymouth hostel (1 night)
So where I left off in Part 1, we were just going to bed in Wellington, NZ (on the North Island). It was our fourth night in New Zealand. The next morning (happy ANZAC Day! – That's Australia/New Zealand Army Corp Day, a big national holiday for both Australia and NZ) we had to get up at 6am to catch a shuttle bus to the ferry that would be taking us from the North Island to the South Island. We even got to check our bags for the ferry, which was a nice change from carrying them around with us everywhere. The ferry was large and confusing, with many levels and seating areas, but we managed to find four chairs and a little table on a kind of screened-in deck area, and spent most of the ferry ride playing violent card games.
The ferry ride was three hours long, but the last hour and a half was actually winding through sea-side mountains in the South Island, a stunningly beautiful ride, despite the day’s clouds
Once disembarked from the ferry, we picked up our bags and our sweet new rental car we’d have for the remainder of our trip! We dubbed her Kiki the Kiwi Kar and loved her for her foot room, but not so much her ability to climb mountains... "Come on Kiki!", became a familiar cheer when driving around the famously steep and windy South Island mountain roads. We ate lunch in Picton and then headed out of town in our OWN car feeling uber-independent after relying on coach buses on the North Island. Allie, who loves to drive, and had the most practice driving on the left side of the road, took the wheel like a pro and basically drove the whole time we were in the South Island. Love her!
Right out of Picton, we found ourselves driving through beautiful vineyards, (all turned gorgeous gold and red because it’s autumn down here in the Southern Hemisphere!) speckled with tall trees that reminded me of coral, with huge mountains in the distance
We decided to stop in the adorable, tree-lined city of Nelson to hit up another grocery store, (bread, Nutella, instant noodles - you know, the essentials) and then stopped at a beach just outside of town. It was just around sunset, not too cold out, the water was an amazing shimmery sea-foam green color and we were just happy to be there.
After more driving, we arrived at our hostel for that night in the town of Motueka. We instantly fell in love with the homey hostel, it’s charming older couple owners, and our very own 4-person room! And this was BEFORE we woke up in the morning and actually saw the place in the light – flowers and orchards and mountains! It was truly a breathtakingly beautiful place to wake up in. Even though it was cold, we ate breakfast outside to enjoy where we were
We had booked a highly recommended kayaking/hiking day trip in Abel Tasman National Park, but when the bus came to pick us up in town we were told that kayaking had been cancelled because of bad ocean conditions. A failed plan because of bad weather conditions? Hmmm, this was an all too familiar scenario, but we decided to go ahead with the trip anyway, via a water taxi, (basically a covered speedboat) which was still being offered even though the seas were rough. We each got about $30 back from the price we had originally booked for kayaking, which was nice, and as it turned out we got to hike farther, see more, and not risk our lives, (as we might have had we attempted kayaking that rough ocean!) so our “Change your plans to save $30 and your life!” motto worked again!
The water taxi was an interesting experience: we actually got in the boats on land at the trip office, (where I ran into two girls from Monash - small world!) and then the boats were towed to the beach and out into the water by tractors! Amanda and I hopped in the very back seats of the boat, thinking we’d get to see more since we’d be out of the plastic sides that surrounded the rest of the boat. Turns out those sides were there for a reason ... Amanda and I did see more by sitting in the back - we saw waves splashing into us! But it was all in good fun and after spotting some wild seals (!!) we were shown the pick-up beaches for later that day and then brought to an even farther beach where we were dropped off. We had 5 hours to hike by ourselves back through mountains and coves to the pick-up beach
The hike was though jungle mountain trails, and at the top of each rise there’d be an awesome view of deserted golden beaches and blue/green water and then we’d follow the trail back down the mountainside and be right by the water. There were also countless waterfalls to be crossed by cute little bridges and one cool suspension bridge! We spent some quality time at a few beautiful beaches, I found a sand-dollar, and the day was overall very, very enjoyable, even though it could have been warmer.
At 4pm, we met the water taxi at the pick-up beach, this time making sure to grab a seat in the front of the boat! The boat ride back to the original beach was less wet, but more like a roller coaster with our little boat battling 9-foot waves! It was a bit scary in a hilarious way - my favorite! Our water taxi was then tractor-towed back to the trip office, where we ran into some IFSA-Butler friends from Melbourne also spending break in NZ - small world again! We were bused back from the trip office to where our car was parked in Motueka by 6pm and we drove straight off towards our next hostel, which was over 4 hours away in the town of Greymouth
At one point we stopped in the middle of nowhere and clambered up on top of the car to look at the stars. They were unbelievable - with no lights from nearby towns or houses, and nothing but far-off mountains to break the skyline, the stars were brighter and thicker than I have probably ever seen them in my life. And we saw a few amazing shooting stars in just the time we were looking! If you know me, you know I’m a big fan of stars and especially shooting stars, so to me it was a near-perfect New Zealand moment.
We didn’t get to our hostel that night until nearly 11pm and it was a weird one. It was in a really old hotel where the water was heated by coal, so I had a lovely choice of either a scalding hot or ice cold shower, and our room was freezing the whole night because the radiator automatically shut off every 20 minutes. But we did have our own 4-person room again, which was good because we didn’t have to worry about waking anyone up when we left at 6:30am the next morning.
We were heading towards Franz Joseph, (famous for its real live glacier) down the west coast of the South Island. We had a fantastic drive along the shore and witnessed a spectacular fire-red sunrise between the mountains. Snow-capped mountains were now a regular sight and we witnessed our first glacier water – water running down from the snow-capped mountains and glaciers. Glacier water is a an unbelievable ice-blue color, nearly white, and FREEZING cold, as we found out when we made a few pit stops to marvel at the lakes and rivers’ unbelievable color.
At the Franz Joseph Township, (just a one street “town”) I said goodbye to Allie, Amanda, and Jamie as they went off on a guided glacier climb and my tighter-budget self hung around outside in the sun reading and listening to music. After bad weather had changed our plans during the first half of our trip, I’m happy to say that we hardly saw a cloud in the sky for the second half! When those guys came back from their glacier tour, we all headed off towards Queenstown, where we would spend our longest amount of time, (4 nights in one hostel in one city? Unheard of!).
Queenstown was a 5 hour drive Southeast-ish (mostly South along the coast), but 5 hours goes by fast with good friends, good snacks, good music, and stops along the way to see Fox Glacier, (hiking through the rainforest one day, seeing a glacier the next, that’s New Zealand for you!) an awesome beach covered in driftwood tepees, and the sun setting over the ocean. Driving in New Zealand was a totally unique experience: often we were the only people in these endless spectacular landscapes, with not another car in sight for miles. And there were more one lane bridges than you could possibly imagine! Seriously, we crossed one about every 10 minutes. And the sheer diversity of scenery never ceased to amaze. Winding our way through majestic mountains, we’d catch a glimpse of the sea far below and the radiant sunset at every other turn and wonder aloud how this could even be a real place.
We reached Queenstown that night around 10:30pm and happily went to bed in our awesome hostel, (more on that next post!). The next post, (the last one on my trip to New Zealand!) will also include my feats of cliff jumping, driving on the left, climbing the steepest mountain ever and then falling down it, and much more! Hurrah!