South Island Road Trip!

December 17, 2015

Leaving Queenstown was one of the top five hardest places to leave since I left home back in May 2013. I had such an amazing life set up there.. I never had such a large group of friends at the same time while abroad. We rolled deep. So why leave? In the end, I only have a year in New Zealand and 6 months was already spent in one place. Yea, New Zealand is small, but still, I needed to get out and explore. So off I went with my mate Brittney, this crazy Canadian. . not sure how I ended up with her.. jokes, she’s an incredibly fun person and we spent the most of our time together laughing. What more could you ask for? We set off from Queenstown and went down to Dunedin, Catlins National Park and Milford Sound which I already wrote about before, so scroll down if you missed it 😉 After the Milford Sound, it was time to pass through Queenstown for one night before continuing North. That night Andy and I had a nice farewell dinner to send me off. It was the best way to end my time in Queenstown. The next day, Brittany and I set off North via the West Coast of the South Island.

Now, if I could put into word the scenery bestowed in front of my eyes, it would be best described as a scene from Lord of the Rings or Jurassic World. I was waiting for Froto Baggins to be seen walking amongst the green terrain or a pterodactyl to fly from the sky. These landscapes are out of this world. Sheer mountain faces and jagged rocks reach for the sky while being covered in the greenest of greens. There are white spots throughout the terrain, of course, which are all of the sheep. There are approx. 30 million sheep while there are only 4.4 million Kiwis living in New Zealand. Now, alongside this terrain is a road unlike any road I have ever driven. Its nearly all a two lane road, winding road with hills throughout. It seems like a level in Mario Kart. There were a handful of times where my (recently developed) fear of heights kicked in and I literally had to stop the car and have Brittany drive! The cliffs on the side were too much to handle! They were mental these roads. Not to mention, the Kiwi drivers. This is the only thing I could possibly say negative about Kiwis as they are some of the kindest people I have met. However, they drive soooo fast (love you Kiwi friends). It seems to be socially acceptable here to tailgate, which is really stressful when you’re going on such a dangerous and foreign road (not to mention, driving on the left side of the road while the drivers seat is one the right side of the car). It was intense.

Now, just in case anyone stops reading here. I just want to reiterate how friendly the Kiwi’s are in general. Do any of you have a grandfather who will speak to anyone in public? And typically will speak a littler longer than usual to a stranger? Well, my grandpa will talk to anyone about anything wherever he is (he’s awesome like that). Well, when you interact with a Kiwi, they often will just pick up casual conversation and go on and on and on. . and on and on and on. It’s great! They are genuinely interested as well. I think a couple campsites took about 15 minutes just to leave the office bc they wanted to chat about anything and everything. You see, Queenstown is extremely international and is a holiday (vacation) destination. I think I had a total of about 3 Kiwi mates there? The rest were bloody English! ☺ So indeed it is nice to get out and interact with people who are actually from the country you are living in! When we moved to the North Island, there was a big transition. Not only does 2/3rds of the population live there, but the North has a lot of the Maori culture. The Maori are the native group to New Zealand. They are MASSIVE people. I’m talking 6 foot plus and arms naturally the size of my legs. At a glance, they can easily be intimidating. OK, let me explain myself with a story. I had just arrived in Wellington and I was already overwhelmed by the size of this “city” (it’s actually quite small). I finally had a night out and walking away from the bar I bumped into someone and spilled my drink on them. As I looked up.. I kept looking up and up and up until I saw this giant of a man looking down at me. I thought, “Here it goes.” I think he saw the concern on my face and looks at me with an intimidating stare before breaking out in laughter. He pats me on the shoulder and says “no worries, cuz!” Now this happened over and over. Not spilling on people, but the random interactions from people who stereotypically look intimidating but once they open their mouths they are full of smiles and good intentions. I started to refer to them as “gentle giants.” Even one night out and about I was washing my hands in the bathroom, and the guy next to me just starts a full convo asking how I like New Zealand. Being slightly buzzed, I told him about my “gentle giant” theory. He thought it was hilarous and ended up giving me a hug! I can’t express how wonderful and friendly the Kiwi’s are. They’re amazing.

Now, back to the road trip itself. As Brittany and myself left Queenstown and went through Middle Earth, we finally reached the sea which was a relief after being landlocked for so long! We camped next to this lake that had a mirror reflection of the sky and clouds during the day. I actually did a self timed selfie with my tripod and camera and missed my footing and fell into the lake! In hindsight, its funny, but at the time, I wasn’t laughting too hard! Brittany didn’t let me live that one down.. and yes, I have a photo right before the “incident.” On the West Coast I found my arch nemesis in life.. Sand Flies. Now, I never thought something could be worse than a mosquito.. but then I met the sand fly! They’re these tiny black winged creatures that live during the day *and* night. Now, when they bite you, just like a mosquito, it itches and itches. However, with a sand fly bite, it can go “dormant” and not itch for a couple days and then it will flare up again! It is the WORST! Ah, so yea, there were so many sand flies that we zipped through the West Coast. In general, New Zealand is so tiny we really over estimated how much time it would take to get from place to place. Along the West Coast we visited two glaciers, the Franz Joseph and Fox Glacier. We didn’t have the best weather, but we made the best of it. We did a couple hikes to view points of the glaciers. Basically, if you imagine two huge mountains and in the valley, a huge piece of ice.. well, then you have the glaciers! It was really cool to see and also upsetting to see how much they have melted in recent years.

After the glaciers we headed up to Hokitika, a little hippie town on the coast. Brittany had a stone she wanted to turn into a necklace so we went to a store where the guy had her use the drill and make the hole herself! We bolted East over Arthur’s Pass which was honestly super anticlimactic. Everyone rages about Arthur’s Pass but to be honest, I wasn’t bothered. I wanted to get to Christchurch as soon as possible as a handful of our mates from Queenstown had recently moved there. It was SUCH a nice reunion with everyone. Not to mention, they had a bed for us both so we didn’t have to sleep in a tent for three nights. We honestly didn’t do much, which was perfect; we just enjoyed each others company. Next, we headed up to Kaikoura, a place known for having wild seals and sea lions. We saw tons of seals sunbathing and bouncing around the boardwalks. We went to this waterfall where we saw them splashing underneath. They’re funny creatures! After Kaikoura we met up with Emma and Marsha, two mates form Queenstown as well. It was nice to see them on the road. We met them in a place called Sawcut Gorge. This was a hike along a riverbed which included no real set pathways, you simply follow the river, crossing it from time to time, until you reach the gorge at the end. Yes, your feet get soaked. To be fair, it was quite a hike, taking a couple hours. It is also was finally when it started to get WARM. I was really getting tired of the cold. Oh, and the wind.. I have never experienced such constant wind until I arrived in New Zealand. Anyways, after some hours into the hike, we finally ran into Emma and Marsha! It was wonderful! We swam and laughed and found a nice campsite that night with each other.

That night, we stayed in White’s Bay and in the morning found out that we could catch fresh mussels there! Therefore, we went to the beach and low and behold, thousands of mussels were attached to the rocks! So what did we do? We caught them and cooked mussels on the beach for lunch! They were delicious! If it weren’t for the sand flies, it would have been a 100%! That day, we went to the wineries. I am not sure how many we went to but by the end of the day I was feeling it! Next, we visited Nelson, which is known for its breweries. It would have been rude not to visit, so we spend the day going from brewery to brewery. Nelson is a cool town. The only other town I saw in the South Island where I would consider living (besides Queenstown). It just has a cool vibe about it, maybe something to do with the brewery culture, but for whatever it was, this place stood out. The beach is nice too with tons of things to do and see along the beachfront.

After Nelson we went to Able Tasman National Park which is stunning. The beaches are lined with tan sand and blue water. Heaven. After Able Tasman, we went up to the largest sandbar in the world, the Farewell Split, which sits on the Northwest side of the South Island. We did a hike at sunset and then settled into Collingwood for the evening. The lady running the place was once again extremely friendly and talkative. Unfortunately, at this point it was time to say goodbye to Emma and Marsha as I had to go to the North Island as Brittany had a flight home from Wellington.

On the boat to the North Island, it finally set in that I was leaving the South Island. I felt like I was leaving the country. Queenstown was no longer “just down the road” and a body of water now separated everyone I care about back there. Not to mention, the next day I dropped Brittany off at the airport and for the first time in six months, I was by myself. Now, I should be used to traveling by myself, ya? Well, for whatever reason, this was extremely difficult for me. I was missing my friends and especially Andy, who luckily is just a phone call away. I think it was a mix of being on my own and the fact that I was in Wellington, the biggest place by far I have seen in NZ. It did not help that the first three days was some of the worst rain and wind I have seen to date here. It was just a challenge. But I always remind myself when traveling that you are going to have a bad day(s). I just have to admit to myself that, ya, today sucks, however, it will pass, just like the other bad days I have had abroad.. and you know what? It passed! I made some friends, particularly some from Brazil, who really took me in and made me feel at home in this “big” city. Not to mention, I got a text from Emma saying that she would be coming to meet me in Wellington from the South Island! The moment she got there everything started coming together. The sun was finally shining and off we went to explore Wellington together. We had a blast. Wellington turned out to be an amazing city and I could see myself living there (if it weren’t for the wind, sorry but it’s a deal breaker!). But overall, the town has character. The city centre is merely a small grid while the majority of the houses sit on the hillsides just outside. Driving around Wellington is a trip too, the roads are so narrow and windy with hills throughout.. kind of like the rest of NZ but this time with traffic!

We had a night out and the next morning had a struggle to find accommodation. You see, AC/DC was in town and overtook Wellington! We wanted to stay for the concert but after looking at our bank accounts, we decided we had to leave. So, we got in our cars and drove North! We found some free campsite and pitched our tent before making our way even further North to Napier. Napier is known for having tons of farm work available most of the year and we went in hope to land a job, fast! We arrived and went to a working hostel called “Kiwi Keith’s.” A working hostel is a hostel where they find you work nearby and most of the people living there are there to work and save. In a nutshell, not too much partying on the weekdays and then a blowout on the weekend. I love a good balance of scales! We spoke to the Keith, the owner saying that we were here for work. He told us that his hostel was booked and that he likes to keep his jobs for those staying at his hostel. We left our name and number and thanked him and went on our way. Then, literally under an hour later, we received a call from Keith saying that he found us jobs thinning apples on a farm! He said that he would do his best to squeeze us into the hostel the next day (which he did). I actually pitched our tent in the back, bought a blow up mattress, and made my four person tent home for the next couple weeks! It is a fun hostel and to be honest, it’s nice to have a tent to myself opposed to sharing a room. So ya, that’s where I am today. Emma and I are on our third day of work and we’re slowly making friends at the hostel. We will celebrate Christmas next week and then onto Rhythm and Vines Music Festival over New Years Ever! It is a three day camping festival and I can’t wait to get loose and listen to some music!

I am really liking Napier, it’s a quaint small town but has a Art Deco vibe going on. It’s right on the beach and will work for now. The main focus now is to work, save, and then go enjoy ourselves at the festival. I think we’re on track. I’m excited to see where the road takes me, who I will meet next, and what memories will be made. New Zealand hasn’t disappointed me yet, and I am sure it won’t start now!

Hope all is well! LOVE YOU ALL!!!

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2 thoughts on “South Island Road Trip!

  1. Jonno says:

    Great article, really loved reading it. Sounds like you had an amazing road trip. We’re sort of doing the opposite route that you did, going down the west coast towards Queenstown. Currently in Franz Joseph as part of our little JWalking trip ( and having a great time in a brilliant country. Like you said the Kiwis are fantastic people. Glad youre enjoying Napoer too. Good blog.

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