It's taken me a while to finally sit down and write this post because when you go to the South Island of New Zealand for two weeks with three amazing, adventurous, hilarious people, SO MUCH HAPPENS. And what an incredible two weeks it was. We drove in Maria's car and really roughed it for [almost] two weeks. (We were forced to stay in a hostel for one night after our tent wouldn't stay up during a monsoon – but I'll get to that later.) Our plan for the trip was to not plan at all, and so we took each day one at a time. I've never done a “vacation” like this before and I absolutely loved it. We were free as birds. We did have one very helpful resource: Scott Cook's guide book, NZ Frenzy. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS to anyone going to New Zealand – especially those wanting to “get off the beaten track”. He tells you all the best places in NZ, from the popular tourist traps to the coolest obscure destinations. Of course, our goal was to be as obscure as possible.
I think the best way for me to present this journey is to just do a short day-by-day summary. I won't go into huge detail because that would take ages. But I'm afraid that if I do it any other way, I'll miss something important! So if you've got a spare minute, go make yourself a hot drink, and enjoy :)
Our route for the first half of the trip
Sunday, April 13
Our ferry was out of Wellington at 9:00 am. (And since I'm learning place names in my Māori class, I'll add the Māori name after I tell you about a city. Wellington is Pōneke.) The water between the North and South Islands is called the Cook Straight and it connects the Tasman Sea to the Pacific Ocean. Maria, Bridget, and I started the trip together and Lisa would join us a week later. We rode the ferry with our American friends, Logan, Brock, Cole, and Jordan (who will from now on be referred to as "the boys"). We spent almost the entire three hours playing ukes in a room with big windows. Sometimes other ferry passengers would sing along or listen and smile and a few people even took a video! That was a pretty cool feeling. I love music for that reason, it brings people together in the simplest of ways. Music a pretty important theme for our journey.
After arriving in Picton (Waitohi), we ate lunch on the docks and caught our first glimpses of the South Island. We followed the boys to our campsite near Nelson (Whakatū) and we all camped in my 6-person tent (that was so generously lent to me by my wonderful host family). We played card games and ukulele and laughed all night.
Monday, April 14
We woke up and the boys' plan was to go to Abel Tasman (Tāhimana), but it was a dreary day so we decided to be obscure and go caving. We went to the Rawhiti Caves near a cute hippy town called Takaka. It was about an hour hike into the caves in the slippery mud, but it was so worth it for what we got to experience. There were huge stalagmites covering the entire ceiling! We explored around and played more ukulele. The acoustics in the cave we were SO AWESOME! We also met some travelers from Israel, Austria, and Germany. We chatted for a while and they gave us a really nice letter wishing us a happy future and to pass it along to another traveler who we thought deserved it.
Me and Maria
Me and Bridget
Afterwards, we hit up a grocery store and began to drive south. We drove for a couple hours and when we started to get tired, we pulled off at the nearest Picnic Shelter that looked suitable for camping and set up our tent.
"Home" for the homeless
Tuesday, April 15
This was a big driving day. It was pouring rain most of the day and we were so afraid the weather would stay like that for the whole trip. We took this opportunity to get as far south as we could. We did stop at Punakaiki Pancake Rocks to have a look. We got drenched but the rocks were very cool! They were formed 30 million years ago by dead marine creatures and plants.
We got all the way down to Franz Josef (Te Tai o Wawe) and it was nighttime so we decided to set up camp - except it was a MONSOON. There we were... the three of us in the pitch dark, POURING rain, with our little headlamps, trying to set up our mansion of a tent. We tried to set it up in "record time" and when we finally got it all connected, we couldn't get in it because the wind blowing it over, making it flat as a pancake [rock]. We just laughed and laughed at ourselves and decided to go visit the boys in their hostel nearby. The plan was to warm up, make soup, then go back and be obscure and camp in the rain. But of course, we got lazy and just decided to stay inside.
Wednesday, April 16
We woke up super early and beat all the tourists to the Franz Josef Glacier. The early Māori knew the glacier as Ka Roimata o Hine Kuatere (Tears of the Avalanche Girl). Most places in Māori are named after a story or event that took place there. This legend is that a girl lost her lover when he fell from one of the peaks and her flood of tears froze into the glacier. Franz Josef Glacier is 12 km long (approx. 7.5 miles)!
Our next stop was Lake Matheson, which is famous for its reflective views of Mount Cook (Aoraki) and Mount Tasman (Horo-kōau). The lake is home to long finned eels and water birds.
Maria and Bridget, with ukulele and celery... how obscure is that?!
We ended the day in Wanaka, one of my favorite places in NZ. It's a really cute mountain town next to a lake and everyone walks around town in scarves and hiking boots. As we headed further south, you could feel the temperature dropping. But none of it compared to the weather at home!
We did some busking on the sidewalk and made some friends. Busking is really fun because of the cool people that stop and talk to you. You meet people who are traveling from all over the world! They're just roaming around, doing their own thing in NZ. It would be so cool to live like that for a while, but I don't think I could do it for a really long time. We warmed up with some coffees at a nice cafe called Kai Whaka Pai and then headed out to set up camp.
Thursday, April 17
We woke up and made delicious oatmeal at our mountain-surrounded campsite. Our activity for the day was a hike called Roy's Peak, which took you on an 11 km walk up a mountain whose peak is 1,578 meters above the ground. In total, it took us about 6 hours. The views were stunning! We got to see Lake Wanaka, Mount Aspiring, and lots of cutie sheep. And there was snow at the peak! (Something I thought I had escaped for good...!) But it was awesome because we were on top of a mountain.
Bridget and me, snacking on bananas and peanut butter ♥
Bridget and me, on top of the mountain
Maria and me, on top of the world
Me being stoic in New Zealand
Sheepies and Lake Wanaka
My friends :) :D ♥
After the hike, we went to the grocery store, listened to a busker, and had our evening coffee. We met up with two guys who we picked up hitchhiking earlier, one from Canada and one from Germany. Hitchhiking in NZ is nothing like hitchhiking in the US. So many people do it, and it's the main mode of transportation for all the random travelers that we met! Such wonderful people! An amazing day :)
Friday, April 18
We planned on making a speedy get-away but of course we were distracted by coffee. I think that's what I spent the most money on during the whole trip. Besides gas. And Cadbury Caramello Chocolate :)
We bought postcards and wrote them to our families while drinking coffee at our cafe and listened to a cool group of buskers from Vanuatu! Most of their instruments were homemade. We went to talk to them after and they let us try some of them out! I really loved their music too, they were so fun!
Me playing a Vanuatuan ukulele!
Bridget on the bass!
Here's a little clip, just you can hear what they sounded like
When we finally made our way out of town, our next stop was Queenstown (Te Kirikiri). We thought we weren't going to like Queenstown because it is honestly one big tourist trap. But, low and behold, one cobblestone street by the waterfront where all the musicians come out to play is where all the magic happens. When suddenly.....!
To Be Continued . . . .
p.s. I LOVE LIFE