Here is an entire rundown of my south island trip which i tried to recreate from pictures and notes, so it is long and will probably have to be edited later as i remember more and look up some place names…
Day 11- 9 February 2010- first day of trip
Angel, Jeff and Joanne met us at Amanda’s flat. General inventory leads me to find out that we have: one three person tent, I am the only one with a sleeping bag and everyone else has blankets, Amanda and I are the only ones with water-proof jackets and running shoes, everyone else has sweatshirts and flats, we have two flashlights, but only one with batteries. We all knew each other through orientation and by semi-planning the trip, but otherwise we knew little about each other before we left to spend 12 days in an ‘intermediate’ sized car. From her flat, we trekked up the hill to the main drag to try and wave down a taxi. Five American students with multiple layers of clothes on and huge backpacks swaying to the sounds of Jeff’s new ukulele while waving at every taxi that drives by. Finally we get a van, and as we drive to the airport, the driver thoroughly explains the senior discount menu offered at McDonalds. Coincidentally there is a McD’s at the airport which offered 60 cent ice cream cones for anyone, young or old, so we indulged. On the flight I got most of the way through Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Welcome to The Monkey House’ which might be my new favorite of his. We spent the night on the floor in the international terminal of the airport, curled up next to a trash can and an atm machine.
Day 12- 10 February 2010- Day 2 of trip
We picked up the car early in the morning and went to the grocery to get our main staples for the trip: peanut butter and jelly. Amanda started off driving, and I started off navigating. We drove to Arthur’s Pass and quickly lost all radio reception- luckily Jeff was picking up the Uke pretty quickly. Arthur’s pass was covered in New Zealand Christmas trees which gave color to the overcast day. We saw our first field full of sheep and Jeff commented, “those look like cold sheep”. We stopped in Greymouth and dipped our toes into the Tasman sea for the first time. We saw some horses that got a little too excited and Joanne started the first quote joke by accidently stating that she wanted a piece of that. In town we searched for a cheap tape to play on the road. We decided on The Cherry Poppin’ Daddies who are most famous for their hit, ‘zoot suit riot’. Blasting this, we drove to pancake rocks. Unfortunately it rained the whole time and most of us were wearing cotton so we spent the next couple days trying to figure out how to dry clothes in a damp car. Jeff drove next, and Amanda winced at every turn. We stopped at lake Ianthe just to see what it was, Jeff decided to get in and swim and then we decided to just camp there for the night. All 5 of us slept in our 3 person tent that night which made the already frayed poles a little bit worse. Although there was a sign asking us to put in 15 dollars for every adult, we pretended to overlook it and hoped that if we left early enough no one would notice. We practiced this ‘New Zealand free camping’ for the rest of the trip but I was constantly reminding everyone to be good in all other aspects to keep up our good karma.
Day 13- 11 February 2010 – Day 3 of trip
I started off the driving in the morning and when I wasn’t ogling at the amazing views or snatching up more trail mix I did pretty well. We drove to Franz Joseph glacier and hiked up to the base. We saw ice chunks floating in the river and got to dunk our heads under some epic waterfalls. Then we went to Fox glacier and got right up next to it- Jeff, Joanne and Angel ended up going under a little glacial cavern while Amanda and I met some older kiwis who told us about how last year two men were killed by a block of ice the size of a house falling on them- needless to say we didn’t go into the cavern too. We went back to the town of Fox Glacier to get coffee and fries and then we decided to hit up the Gillespie beach which was supposed to be nearby. After a long drive on a windy dirt road we finally made it and found out there was a campground. We hung out on the black sand beach; writing in journals, building rock structures, playing the ukulele, taking pictures, annoying the Germans next to us, eating Nutella and drinking sparkling wine. As the sun began to set, the clouds behind us began to clear and we were presented with an amazing view of purple, snow covered mountains (including Mt Cook) behind us and an ocean under a pink sunset in front of us. Definitely one of the best views of the trip. Later, we could see every star in the sky including Orion’s belt, the Southern Cross and the Milky Way. That night, Joanne and Amanda slept in the car and Angel and Jeff regretted not bringing more than fleece blankets.
Day 14- 12 February 2010- Day 4 of trip
We started the morning by taking a small hike around the nearby Lake Matheson. The water was smooth as glass and reflected an image of a cloudy covered Mt Cook. We then set sail to Queenstown, which ended up being a longer drive than we had anticipated, probably because we kept stopping along the way. The best stop was at Bruce Bay which was across the street from a Maori Marae and at which, all along the road, people had built little structures of rocks and sticks. Jeff decided the ocean was warm enough to swim in and somehow convinced me to get in too. Somehow we were able to convince everyone else to get in (after all how often do you get to swim in the Tasman Sea?) and counted that as our shower for the day. We made a stop in Wanaka to get some caffeine and motivation and stumbled upon the Paradiso café that I had read about in Lonely Planet and heard about from my parents. In Queenstown the group decided to get a room for the night, which cost us 22 per person. We thought it was just going to be one queen sized bed but there ended up being a whole other room that had two bunk beds in it so that we all had our own bed for the night. We ‘went out’ to a place called World Bar and danced and drank out of tea-pots for many hours. Jeff, Joanne and Angel decided to go to the famous Ferg Burger and Amanda and I met some local kiwis who worked at the Remarkables ski resort in the winter and spent all their money on drinks in the summer. Johnny showed us two other bars where he knew the bouncers and bartenders and then Johnny and Joel walked us back to our campsite. Along the way they mentioned one of their favourite pastimes called ‘spa pool hunting’ in which you look for hot tubs which may or may not be open for public use after dark. We ended up finding one behind a motel 8 and Amanda and I got in in our dresses. Worried that we were being too loud, we decided to call it a night and as we walked home it began to rain. We got back to the room at 6 and woke up at 9 to check out.
Day 15- 13 February 2010- Day 5 of trip- Lisa’s Birthday
Being oblivious to most things, I didn’t realize that Lisa had actually lived in Queenstown and worked at a Winery that we probably drove by. But it made sense because Queenstown ended up being my favorite place of the trip and it was appropriate that I got to enjoy it on her birthday.
We spent the day in Queenstown looking around and planning our trip and then we went wine tasting. We went to three different wineries and while some people looked at us like stupid Americans abusing the drinking age others were happy to enlighten us about the wine making process and teach us how to judge a good wine. The views from each of the wineries were amazing and one of them was actually in a scene from Lord of the Rings. Then Joanne and I did the Canyon Swing which is a 60 meter free fall and then high speed swing through a beautiful canyon. We both did our first jump upside down and backwards. For the second jump I did a forward swan dive (which was way scarier) and Joanne got strapped to a lawn chair. It happened very quickly but I’ll never forget that feeling of falling without any resistance which goes on for long enough that your brain has time to scream “no this isn’t right!” We met up with everyone back in town and ate fush and chups right next to the lake. We splurged again and got gelato and watched hippie fire dancers which was actually really entertaining because they were not that good and almost dropped a baton of fire on some kids in the crowd. That night Angel and I were the only ones to still camp in the tent and he was so cold that in the morning he got up at 5 to walk to town to get coffee.
Day 16- 14 February 2010- Day 6 of trip
We drove in the direction of Milford – along the way playing 21 questions. Most of the time the thing to guess was an item of food but one time it was the sun and Jeff asked “would it be sad if I ate it?” and Angel replied, “probably, yes”. At some point on one of the drives, Angel had confided that his one NZ dream was to frolic in an open field. We found the perfect spot for this right after Te Anau and we all got out and galloped around. I think we would have frolicked all day if it weren’t for those stupid sand flies. We then looked for a campsite- most were full- found Cascade creek where we pitched a tent in the forest and then bundled up in everything we brought. Jeff and Angel tried to start a fire using the ‘101 things to do in Christchurch’ brochure as fuel but were unsuccessful. Us girls went on a little hike through the forest to get our temperature up. Even though it was almost 9pm it was still light enough to see in this dense forest where everything- and I mean EVERYTHING- was covered by moss. Angel vowed never to sleep in the tent again, but Amanda and Jeff gave it another try. They were both awake and back in the car by 6.
Day 17- 15 February 2010- Day 7 of trip
We started off the morning with a steep walk from the Divide up to Key Summit. Although everyone was complaining the whole way up (Amanda and I both had colds by this point too), the view at the top quieted all grumbles. There was a kind of bog which covered the surface of the top and a made a dramatic transition between the forest below and the steep mountains around us. After a peanut butter and trail mix lunch in the parking lot we drove up to Homer tunnel where we all got out to look at the glaciers and waterfalls. One trail took us a little closer to a giant fall, but as Angel pointed out, not close enough. There was a huge boulder field between us and the falls and I couldn’t resist scrambling all the way up to it. I probably enjoyed the scrambling more than the view of the falls but because no one else had tennis shoes they did not agree. We got close enough that we got wet from the spraying mist. On the way back to the car I kept glancing back and realizing that the whole falls were about 3 times as big as what we could see when directly underneath them. I scrambled back on the rocks and everyone else trekked through a lower valley- looking at them from the car they reminded me of Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin on a mission to return the ring. Our last ‘hike’ for the day was to The Chasm which was a little area where a river had worn away at the rocks around it to create some crazy looking shapes. When we got to Milford, we hung out at the lodge and used all its facilities, including hot showers and hot water for cup-a-soup, for free. Again, while trying to keep up the good karma. Because all campsites and rooms were booked we spent the night with all five of us in the car.
Day 18- 16 February 2010- Day 8 of trip
We woke up early the next morning to go Kayaking on the sound (actually a Fjord which they mistakenly spell Fiord). Angel and Jeff paired up and Amanda and Joanne paired up so I was left to look for another loner amongst the tour group. I met a red-headed Israeli who was with a group of kids who had just been released from the Israeli army and were generally psyched on life. It was a beautiful, cloudless day and the sand flies weren’t too bad. We had to put on all kinds of gear including all polyester jammies and a rubber ‘skirt’. The guide led us around the water for about 2 hours and then we stopped for hot Roa (which is like mango tea) and the Israelis shared their Eskimo shaped marshmallows. We saw seals and, to my dislike, everyone crowded around them and Angel even touched one (he says he ‘pet’ it). We then went back to the lodge and check out the ‘beach’ behind it which was surrounded by all kinds of bright wildflowers. We all ended up sleeping in the lounge for most of the day and then went back to the sound’s edge to see the sunset. We then drove to Te Anau, appreciating the scenery even through the dark and admiring the stars through the sun roof. The gas light came on right as we got to Te Anau so after reluctantly searching around for a campground we just parked on the main street and decided to all sleep in the car again. Just as I started to drift off, a parking cop knocked on the window and told us we had to drive to the next town for free camping. Somehow we had enough gas to get down that windy road and get back the next morning.
Day 19- 17 February 2010- Day 9 of trip
Woke up early to get gas and get out of there. From this point we had planned to go back to Christchurch through the middle of the island, through the mountains and lakes. But several people (including myself) wanted to see Dunedin and see what all the hype was about. A lady at the isite told us to take the Southern Scenic Route which from Te Anau went south and along the coast up to Dunedin. She gave us a map that highlighted specific tourist destinations and we set off to see the first one, the Clifden caves. We got a little bit into the caves and then realised that 5 people could not share one flashlight. So we drove into the nearest town to buy one or two more. Everyone came out of the grocery store and said they had met an old man who had an extra light and was headed to the caves too if we wanted to follow him. I was pretty sure we were going to be murdered in those caves by this old guy, but turns out he was just a nice, lonely tourist who didn’t want to go alone. We scrambled all the way through them, got all kinds of dirty and saw our first glow worms (really more like glow larvae-but whatev). As we made our stops along the tourist traps on the map we realised something which is best explained by the town of Riverton. The attraction of this town was the ‘Riverton Rocks’ which was labeled as a ‘must see’ on the guide map we had been following. And Jeff kept exclaiming, “it’s a must see! We MUST go see them!” We drove into Riverton, drove to the ocean lookouts and around the campsites and although we saw some normal looking ocean rocks, we saw nothing that looked especially, well, special. So we stopped at a bar and Angel ordered some fries and Amanda and I split some seafood chowder (which had HUGE mussels in it and was uh-mazing) and asked some locals what the deal was with these rocks. One toothless man replied, “oh ya just drive on down to the beach, look in the water and you’ll see ‘em right there in the water- rocks”. So it seems that we had been lured into the biggest tourist trap of all- a complete tour of the not-so-attraction-filled southern coast. And it totally worked. Every time we stopped we would get a little gas, Angel would buy fries, Amanda would buy coffee, Jeff would buy some kind of pointless souvenir and Joanne and I would end up spending our money on some kind of snack. Following the route, we made it to Gemstone beach, and Monkey Island and then camped for the night at Porpoise Bay right on the top of a bluff, almost surrounded by ocean views. The tide here was so powerful- it kept barreling into the cliffside and made for an amazing sunset and soundtrack for that night’s sleep. The people next to us were from Berkeley and they lent us their extra tent poles because by this time the tent was looking quite sad and in no way resembling a tent shape. It was so much warmer here than it had been in Milford and I slept so well that I slept in the next day till like 9!
Day 20- 18 February 2010- day 10 of trip
Amanda and I started the day with a hike to McLean falls. There was a group of kids in a summer camp on the hike as well and we overheard their counselor saying that if they went into the waterfall they’d get extra credit. When we got to the top, there were three of the skinniest, coldest looking junior high aged boys who were all counting slowly to ten before jumping in again and again while Amanda and I looked on in our ski jackets. We then drove to Cathedral Caves which are these massive caves shaped like perfect gothic arches looking out over the ocean- proving my point that environmental studies and art history do have something in common. As we headed back to the car it started to rain and Amanda and I ended up huddling under a tree watching a tour of old people eating a picnic in their raincoats and cursing under breath at Jeff who had the keys and was still in the caves somewhere. We then drove to another set of falls and then to Puranaiki bay and its waterfalls. We got to Dunedin before sundown and went out to dinner with a fellow EAPer, Collette, who is going to Otago for the year. We ate some cheap Chinese food and it was SO good to have hot food again. We then made it over to a house party where many other EAPers were and from there split up to spend the night on different host’s floors. Amanda and I went with Marguerite who is so nice there has to be something wrong with her. Jeff suspects a chemical imbalance. She let us sleep on her bed while she slept on the floor and made us cereal and tea in the morning.
Day 21 – 19 February 2010- Day 11 of trip
Amanda and I spent the day walking around the town, we went to the octagon and had a coffee. That night we went out to a real cool pizza place that had fireplaces and the Olympics on tv. We then went to a rugby game- the Otago Highlanders v. the Auckland All Blues. Auckland won (woot!) but other than that I knew nothing of what was going on. Afterwards though, we got to rush the field and I got number 15’s autograph (otago team) and took pictures with him and number 10 and 11. We had heard a rumor that a bar was offering free drinks and a chance to meet the team after the game, so we skeptically headed to The Bog. The rumors were true! We all got a free pint of Guiness and the team showed up later in matching shirts and talked casually with all the fans. We met some kiwis (and some random ozzies) who showed us some magic tricks and taught us some bar games. Best of all Marguerite let us sleep on her bed again.
Day 22- 20 February 2010- Day 12 of trip
Started the day with a trip to the Dundein Farmer’s Market which I can confidently say is the best farmer’s market I have ever been to. I probably spent 20 dollars on fresh fruit including strawberries, and peaches and also awesome coffee. We headed out afterwards to make our way back to Christchurch. Although we were anxious to get to our final spot I think we were also kinda bummed that this meant the trip was coming to an end. Jeff kept stopping at every beach to get out and swim saying, “this may be your last swim on the south island!” We stopped at the Moaraki boulders which were cool and spherical, but still completely overrated. And then, Christchurch. We walked around the city but were kind of unsure what there was to do, after all, we had used our “101 things to do in Christchurch” as fuel a couple days before. Somehow I convinced everyone but Jeff to see the movie Shutter Island even though we were late and had to sit in the front row. It was good and when we met up with Jeff after he admitted that he had just been walking around aimlessly for two hours. That night we stayed with another extremely friendly EAPer, Joseph. He ended up going to a party but we just watched jaws 3 and fell asleep on his living room floor.
Day 23- 21 February 2010- Day 13 of trip
Being bored with Christchurch already, we went to the airport to see if we could fly home early. When that didn’t work, we tried to brainstorm things to do in the city that were cheap and of little effort because we were all kind of burnt out. We ended up walking around and listening to some free music in the park and then checking out the free art gallery which was actually really cool and made me excited for the art history classes I am scheduled to take this coming Monday. We took a nap in the botanic gardens and then got some old fashioned ice-cream. We hung out in cathedral square for a while- Jeff tried to earn some money by playing his Ukulele and I watched old men play giant chess.
Day 24- 22 February 2010- Day 14 of trip
We dropped the car off in the morning and then spent some more time wandering around aimlessly until the car rental place gave us a free lift to the airport. Unfortunately, I had to pay 80 bucks to check my bag because they decided it was too big to be a carry on but I reasoned that as payback for all the ‘free’ camping we did. Chris was nice enough to pick us up from the airport and I was so relieved to have a whole room to myself that I just unpacked all my stuff onto the floor and fell asleep.