Alas! I’m finally sitting down to update my blog. To those of you still reading it, first of all, thanks for keeping up with it! Second of all, I’m sorry for the delay, but here is what’s happened these past two and a half week.
Two Fridays ago, Isabel, Matt, Dave, and I hit the road for our South Island road trip. We travelled over 1400 miles in Matt’s “sports car”, a 1991 Toyota Corolla. The NZ government called it a sports car, which made Matt excited, and she (surprisingly) didn’t experience any troubles on our trip! Our first stop was Franz Josef Glacier, which is on the west coast and a 10 hour drive from Dunedin. Thankfully this was the longest portion of our drive for the whole week and we got it over with first. There was never a boring moment driving around the South Island because everywhere you look there is beautiful scenery. On our journey to the West Coast, we drove along the ocean some and then hit a mountainy, windy portion of the road that had tropical scenery.
Our “sports car”:
Matt, me, and Isabel on our drive to Franz Josef:
The West Coast is also very isolated and deserted. You can travel for an hour without driving through any towns, and when you do drive through a town it’s gone in the blink of an eye. There doesn’t seem to be much civilization in that part of NZ, and what is there is very touristy, such as the two glaciers, Franz Josef and Fox (they’re about 30 minutes away from each other). After leaving Dunedin at 11:45am, we finally arrived to Franz Josef around 9:30pm, found our room at the hostel, and went to bed.
On Saturday Isabel, Matt, and I went on a full-day guided hike on the glacier while Dave went hiking on his own. You have to go on a guided hike to actually step foot onto the glacier for safety reasons, and they offer half-day or full-day hikes. It was a long day, having to be at the tour building at 8am and not getting back until 5pm, but it was well worth it! The glacier was a big block of ice in between two massive mountains. The walk up to the actual glacier was a large, open area covered in rocks and dirt, and there was no snow anywhere around the glacier. Our hiking group consisted of about 30 people, and we split into 3 groups based on speed. We joined group 1, the “fast” group, but our pace was still very manageable by any non-hiking standard. Our guide, Ben, was knowledgeable about the glacier and ended up being a great guide. The guides have to carry a huge, heavy axe to fix stairs that are cut into the glacier as we go along. We wore crampons, large spikes that you strap to the bottom of your shoes, to have traction on the ice. In the pictures you’ll notice that the ice looks blue in some parts. The deeper the ice, the more pressure it’s subjected to and the less air it has, which makes it a blue color. Our hike included climbing lots of ice staircases, shimmying through crevasses, and going through ice tunnels. As part of the glacier hike, we got a free pass to the local spa, which the four of us enjoyed on Saturday evening.
The glacier from a distance:
The three of us at the top (or at least the highest point we hiked to on our tour):
By the end of the day the fog had settled really low over the glacier, and it looked like this as we hiked out:
Our next destination was Nelson, which is at the top of the South Island and an 8-hour drive. On our way we passed through some fun towns, two of which we stopped in. Hokitika offered a nice view of the ocean and Sweet Alice’s Fudge Shop, and Punakaki had the well-known Pancake Rocks. The Pancake Rocks are flat, individual rocks stacked on top of each other that actually looked like one huge rock with horizontal cracks in it. Somewhere near Nelson we also stopped at the Buller Gorge Swingbridge, which is supposed to be the longest swinging bridge in NZ, but this was a disappointment. You had to pay $5 to walk across it and it didn’t even look that spectacular. We just looked at it through the fence and didn’t fork out the money.
[Side note: I’m sorry, but there are no more pictures for the rest of this blog post. I was almost done uploading all of the pictures then something happened and everything after this point was erased. I was completely gutted and don’t have time to re-upload everything as it takes a while. I’m going to direct you to Isabel’s blog for photos from the rest of break, as she was much more prompt about posting them. http://cran-kiwi.tumblr.com/ I’m sorry!]
We stayed in Nelson for two nights at Tasman Bay Backpackers, which was by far the best hostel we experienced during our trip (we only stayed in 3 different hostels though). What I’ve gathered from my hostelling experience, which began in NZ, is that hostels are a great way to travel for cheap (usually around $25/night), very homey, and very clean. Most are like being at your grandmother’s house – everything is clean and cozy. Each hostel is different, but in general there’s usually a living room with comfy sofas and a warm fire going where everyone lounges around in the evening. They also have a large, continental kitchen for you to do any cooking and a fridge for your food. It’s a great place to meet all sorts of people, and, should you talk to them, hear everyone’s story and what they’re doing in life. This particular hostel was great because we got free wifi and free chocolate pudding and ice cream each night. Since being in Dunedin, I’ve felt like a true college kid, where I have come to appreciate free pens/pencils/highlighters, free internet, and free (or very cheap) food. For instance, the Otago uni student association, OUSA, has $3 lunch everyday, where lunch is literally $3. The menu is the same Monday through Friday: pasta, rice and curry, rolls and soup, rice and lentil soup, then a surprise Indian dish each Friday. All of their meals are vegan, and while they’re not particularly healthy, they’re DELICIOUS and so worth the money. They give you enough food for 2, if not 3, other meals. This deal may even beat the ice cream from Rob Roy Dairy. Anyway though, back to Nelson. Our first night in Nelson we walked to town and ate at a Chinese restaurant, then made it back to the hostel in time for chocolate pudding (which was really more like cake) and ice cream.
For our full day in Nelson, we went to Abel Tasman National Park, which is New Zealand’s smallest national park. Even though it’s the smallest, it has a long, thin shape and seemed quite large to me. Abel Tasman is on the coast and the hike from one end to the other takes about 4 days. It’s very common to take a water taxi out to a certain point and then hike back, or hike out and take a water taxi back. We did the former, taking a 3 hour water taxi tour of the park before being dropped off to hike back. Abel Tasman is beautiful. Unfortunately we were there on a cloudy, rainy day, but it was still spectacular. The water is a clear aqua color toward the beach that gradually changes to a darker aqua-blue color as you get further out, and this would look even more stunning on a sunny day. Sunny or not though, Abel Tasman is what I imagine Hawaii or Fiji to look like. The land features a tropical feel with ferns so large they look like palm trees and with all sorts of other plants. The Abel Tasman track is also very flat, with inclines only going to and from the beaches, so it makes for an easy hike. Hiking back from our drop-off location, I felt like I was in Lord of the Flies with all of the tropical-feeling plants. Our hike took about 3.5 hours and we took our time, stopping along to way to take pictures or go down to different beaches. By the end of the day we were exhausted. On the hour car ride home Dave, Isabel, and I fell asleep, leaving Matt to stay awake on his own while driving.
That night at the hostel we decided to cook dinner, and we had rice with veggies mixed in and chicken. We also met this guy named Jack who was so interesting to talk to. He was from England and had been away traveling since November! He had graduated from university 2 years ago and saved up his money, and on his travels he was going to every continent except North America and Antarctica. He had already been to Africa, Southeast Asia, and Australia, and his next and final stop was South America. I saw him eating his meal alone, so I invited him to sit with us for dinner. We talked to him all during dinner plus more afterwards, and I still could have talked to him all night I was so intrigued by his travels. I can’t imagine doing what he’s done– traveling by the seat of his pants, not knowing exactly what he would do in each country, just knowing when he was arriving and leaving; not always knowing where he would sleep that night or when his next meal would be, and living out of a hiking pack for the past year. It’s amazing to think how little we actually need to survive, and yet I’m always buying things that I “need”.
The next morning in Nelson Isabel, Dave, and I woke up early-ish and went to a coffee shop. Nelson is known for having a lot of quaint coffee shops, so it wasn’t hard to find a place to try. We picked a Swedish café that had the BEST croissants I’ve ever had. They were light and flakey and made with so much butter they melted in your mouth. I usually only like chocolate croissants, but their plain ones were better than most chocolate ones I’ve had. Delicious! Afterwards we went back to the hostel, packed up the car, stopped by the Nelson Cathedral on our way out, then headed to Kaikoura.
The drive to Kaikoura was beautiful and certainly even prettier with the sunny, warm day we experienced. It was a 4 hour drive that, once closer to Kaikoura, followed the coast, offering yet more stunning scenery. At one point we stopped for a leg stretch/scenic view by the beach, and on the beach was a seal soaking up the sun. Dave and Isabel decided to accost it by running over to it, upon which it responded by disappearing into the ocean, but we got a few good pictures before it left. Just outside of Kaikoura was the Ohau Waterfall that our Abel Tasman water taxi driver recommended we stop at. It was about a 10 minute hike to this waterfall that was nestled back in the woods.
We arrived to Kaikoura around 4pm and the weather was still beautiful and sunny. We went straight for the Kaikoura Peninsula to get a hike in before the sun went down, which turned out to be my favorite part of our South Island travels. The peninsula was gorgeous, stunning, spectacular, etc. Words and pictures don’t do justice to its beauty. Walking along the peninsula, there was a sheer cliff to one side, with the aqua-blue ocean below. On the other side were rolling green hills with cows grazing, in the distance were snow-capped mountains, and the baby-blue sky featured above white wisps of clouds. Despite going out and coming back the same route, the views were different both ways because on the way back the sun was setting, offering different lighting on the landscape and put a pink haze in the sky.
After the peninsula we checked into our hostel, the Dolphin Lodge, then headed to the one main street in Kaikoura to find dinner. Kaikoura is a tiny town that mainly profits from tourism, and during the summer they are packed with visitors. They are also known for their crayfish, which is a type of fish very similar to lobster. Crayfish don’t have pinchers and taste sweeter because, as we learned, “they are hunters not scavengers.” A whole crayfish can range anywhere from $90-$150 at restaurants.
The next day we arranged to go deep-sea fishing in the afternoon, so in the morning we decided to attempt to find a huge, 2500-year-old tree we were told about by our waitress from the night before. We were a bit skeptical about whether we would find this tree because her directions were a bit dodgy. We were instructed to follow the trail that would cross through a couple of rivers, pass through a gate marked with a “no trespassing” sign, take a left at the fork, and follow the barbed wire fence. We followed her directions as closely as we could, but when we got to a hippie farm/commune type place and were greeted by a pig, we decided to turn back and not complete this adventure. After our failed hike, we headed to a recommended roadside BBQ stand for seafood. This place was legit, and we ordered and split the seafood platter.
After lunch we met up with our fishing guy and went deep-sea fishing. He arrived with a tractor pulling his little speedboat, and we hopped in the boat, were put into the water, rode 10 minutes out to sea, and dropped the lines into the water. The weather was sunny but windy, making the water choppy and favorable to seasickness. Surprisingly, even after our seafood platter, only one of us got sick (and it wasn’t me). Our fishing guide was the real deal. His name was Nick and ironically we had heard about him from our water taxi guide and then given his name from the hostel as a good guy to go fishing with. He was practically a legend, and for good reasons. He was missing all of his fingers except a pinky and thumb, and he was missing half of his left leg (from the knee down). He knew what he was doing when it came to fishing. In deep-sea fishing, you drop your line to the very bottom of the ocean, and he could tell if your line was at the bottom or not by just watching you. He could also tell if you had a fish before you were able to feel it on the line. The fish that we were catching at the bottom of the ocean were gurnards, and they were biting like crazy. Within 30 seconds of getting your line to the bottom, you would be reeling it back with a fish (or two) on the line. Total we caught about 6 fish apiece, and Nick would fillet them right in front of us. As a part of this fishing extravaganza we were each given a crayfish, so on our way back into shore we stopped by the traps Nick had in the ocean and got the crayfish out. Since we didn’t have anywhere to put our catch and Crayfish can live for 2-5 days out of water, Nick gave us a box to keep our fish in (separated by newspaper so the crayfish didn’t eat our filleted fish). We stuck the box in the middle in the back seat and drove to Christchurch with dinner. In Christchurch we were staying with Peter, Isabel and Matt’s Kiwi host, at his parents house. We arrived around 7pm bearing dinner, baked the gurnard, steamed the crayfish, and feasted.
The next day we said goodbye to Dave, who had to get back to Dunedin for a geology field trip. He left early in the morning on a bus. We spent a majority of our day in Christchurch looking at the earthquake damage, which was tragic and devastating. I had never realized the damage that could be caused by an earthquake, and the disasters in Christchurch resulted in the whole city center being shut down. People were basically evicted from their businesses. Peering through some windows of stores, things were left exactly as they had been when the 22 February 2011 quake hit. One coffee shop still had the newspaper from that day on the table next to the window. Dirty plates and coffee cups were still on tables, and that day’s menu was displayed on the black board. Another travel store had pamphlets and brochures on the wall. Things were left in the exact same spot and businesses had notices on the door saying that they could not enter until further notice. Some buildings displayed obvious damage from the outside, and others looked fine but perhaps had structural damage that made it unsafe. Houses had plywood to reinforce some walls, and large cracks appeared in the pavement. Peter’s house even had cracks in some walls and other small structural damages, but overall they were not badly affected by the quakes. The mood outside the fences put up around the city center was eerie and devastating.
Other than looking at the quake damage, we went to the mall and later in the afternoon went sea kayaking. Peter and his family own 2 sea kayaks, and we went to the Lytton Harbor to kayak. While it was cloudy and cold in the afternoon, this was still a lot of fun and my first time sea kayaking.
Later that night Kate picked me up from Peter’s house and I spent the rest of the weekend with her at her house in Ashburton. It was Thursday evening when she picked me up, so I spent 2 full days with her. On Friday we lounged around and went to the center of town, which consisted of one main street and a few side streets. On Saturday we went skiing at Mt. Hutt, which was about an hour away. The mountain was small compared to ski mountains in the states, as they had a limited number of runs to the bottom and it took about 15 minutes from the time you got on the ski lift to the time you were back in line at the bottom. However, I did enjoy skiing and am glad that I was able to ski in New Zealand before the season closed. Overall, Kate’s house was nice and relaxing, and much warmer than my flat. It was a nice change and both of us didn’t want to leave on Sunday to go back to uni.
My first week back from the break, I was heads-down writing a history research essay due the following Monday. I was able to complete my rough draft by Friday afternoon, when I headed to the Catlins, a nearby mountain range, for the night. I went with Anna, Isabel, and 2 guys who were Anna’s lab partners. We went so that Anna and the guys could do their biology project, and Isabel and I came along to fill up space in the car and experience the Catlins. The Catlins are not what I expected, as it was more like a large farming region that happens to be in the mountains rather than a specific mountain. The Catlins have a lot of short, 30-minute walks, and you drive from one to the other. Isabel and I drove from track to track all around the Catlins on Saturday.
Saturday night marked the opening of the Rugby World Cup in Dunedin. The first game was on Friday night in Auckland, All Blacks v. Tonga, and the All Blacks obviously won. On Saturday, England and Argentina played in the new covered stadium in Dunedin. Dunedin was buzzing with fans, but despite this “large event”, it still didn’t compare to Athens on game day. The Dunedin stadium only holds 30,000 people, which is nothing compared to Sanford Stadium’s 92,000. I ended up watching the game with Kate and her friends in our living room on live stream. Our flat is located 2 blocks away from the stadium, so when the live stream would freeze, we would know if something big happened because we could hear the noise coming from the stadium. England ended up winning, 13-9.
This past weekend I went to the England v. Georgia rugby game. To be honest, I didn’t know that Georgia was a country before hearing about this match. It’s located in both Europe and Asia, between Western Asia and Eastern Europe, and it’s flag looks like that of England with 4 additional smaller red crosses (thank you, Wikipedia). England won 41-10. It was an average game of rugby with nothing too special occurring, but it was nice to see a RWC game live in Dunedin’s new stadium.
This week I find myself busy with work, again, as I have 2 essays due next week, one on Tuesday and the other on Friday. I need to get a significant amount of work done before the weekend though, as 10 of us are going on a trip to Mt. Cook this weekend with the Dunedin city tramping club (the same group I went with to the Routeburn). Mt. Cook is 4 hours away and supposed to have great views, so I’m excited! I’ll be sure to post about it (eventually).
Sorry for taking waaaay too long to complete my post on mid-semester break, but again, thanks for reading my novel.
1. New Zealand’s father’s day is the first Sunday in September
2. “Z” is pronounced “zed.” Saying “N.Z.” sounds like “en zed.”
3. There are only 8 Universities in NZ, 3 of which are on the South Island. Otago is the southern-most University in the world.
4. New Zealander’s call high school “college”, yet university halls of residence are also referred to as “colleges”
5. College (aka high school) here is 5 years and uni is typically 3 years (with exceptions, of course)
6. All colleges (once again, think high schools) in NZ have uniforms
7. Every pen that I’ve acquired or borrowed has been blue ink. The only black ink pen I’ve used is one that I brought from home.
8. Some towns (like Kaikoura and Ashburton) have volunteer fire departments. To call the fire fighters, a siren goes off that blares through the whole town.
9. Your last name is referred to as your surname or family name
10. NZ trusts you to not steal gas. At most petrol stations you have to pay inside after you’re finished and there isn’t even a credit card machine at the pump.