After catching the ferry to the South Island, we drove about two hours to a town called Kaikoura. Before arriving, we were greeted with stunning ocean views from a winding coastal road. The color of the water is jaw dropping, like someone found a way to turn up the saturation filter in our eyes. We stopped for lunch at a small seafood BBQ shack on the way to visit a local seal colony, and Linsey indulged my seafood cravings. We got to see a few seals basking in the sun, and spent a while climbing around cool rock formations.
Part of the fun in traveling is the opportunity to meet other travelers. There are so many interesting people from different walks of life, different cultures and who and travel in vastly different ways. We made friends with people traveling on work visas, student visas, other planners like ourselves, and those who are just winging it. We spent the evening watching a terrible band, but had a great time laughing and enjoying the company of our new friends.
The next morning we tried to go whale watching, but foggy conditions thwarted our plans. In retrospect, I think Linsey would have preferred if the whole event had been canceled. The seas had a 5-6 foot swell, prompting statements like “boats are stupid,” and “boats should never have been invented.” Thinking of disaster in the way she does, Linsey asked me “when we get stranded at sea, who should eat first?” I’m extremely proud of her for keeping down her lunch and being a good sport about it.
After Kaikoura we left early to drive to the Franz Josef glacier, on the west coast of the south island. The landscape changes here are pretty dramatic. We went from rocky coast to rolling green hills, into bare mountains, farmland, dense fern jungles, and back to the coast all in about six hours. We hiked 6 hours round trip to get to the top of a mountain for incredible glacier views, and were again thwarted by fog. Though Linsey does not self-identify with the term 'hiker' she nevertheless made it to the top of the hill. There is a picture of her smiling somewhere, but she says that this picture above captures her true feelings about the very long climb. Still trying to get a view of the glacier, we woke up early and walked to the glacier valley, and were rewarded with stunning views of the Fox Josef Glacier in it’s slow retreat up the mountain. It ended up being a really striking moment, as we were the only two people on the trail and were able to enjoy the time and landscape without the buzz of other tourists.
Leaving Franz Josef, we drove to a town called Te Anau down in the New Zealand’s southern Fiordland. Te Anau, like many other places in New Zealand, is a small town on a lake that hosts travelers usually for one or two main attractions. In this case, people come to see the fiords. In the morning on our way to Milford Sound for our kayaking and boating tour, we encountered gradually increasing cloud cover. After emerging from a scary one-lane tunnel through the mountain straight into a cloud, with visibility down to about twenty feet, we were pretty discouraged by our prospects for a good day. However we were told multiple times by different Kiwis that “Oh I reckon it’ll burn off,” and they were right. The clouds parted, showing towering mountains rising straight from the water, up to a mile high. Suiting up in our thermal gear, we took off on our kayaks with six other people and a tour guide who was very likely still under the influence of whatever caused him to have a smashing good time the prior evening, He was a bit slow in remembering his touring facts: “The red beech tree becomes the silver beech here…silver beech, no the golden beech, silver…yeah, red beech.” There were lots of sentences like that. We did learn a lot about the unique nature of the area, such as that Milford Sound gets an average of about 20 feet of rain per year, resulting in a 15-foot layer of fresh water that sits on top of the salt water from the sea. It’s a pristine landscape, and they try to keep it that way. There are only around two hundred residents. Kayaking was super fun, and then the boat tour took us all the way out to the Tasman Sea. Overall it has been one of our favorite days so far.
After Te Anau we ventured on to Queenstown, adventure capital of the world. According to the internets, this city has 220 different adventure tourism activities. Queenstown seems vibrant and buzzing with energy, has a gorgeous landscape with mountains and the lake, but still seems like a small town. Being in this exciting place, we decided to do a bungee (spelled bungy in New Zealand) jump. The only company in town is named after the guy who started organized commercial bungee jumping, AJ Hackett. Obviously Linsey felt a particular affinity for this group. See the video below for the shriekiest of good times.
From Queenstown we headed to Lake Tekapo. It seems like I’m saying this a lot, but the colors here are just unreal. The lake gets it’s unique blue from the glacier that feeds it, with sunlight shining off of “rock flour” created by the glacier grinding rocks into a fine dust that it suspended in the water. The beauty of it seems to catch us off guard every time we look at it. The only reason to come to this town, population 318, is because of the night sky. This area was named the world’s largest International Dark Sky Reserve, and it’s one of the best places on the planet for stargazing. I wish I could have gotten a picture of what we were able to see as we lay on our backs near the beach, but I would have needed a much better camera. We witnessed shooting stars, passing satellites, and the clearest view of the Milky Way I’ve ever seen in person. It’s one of those quiet, awe-inspiring moments that we’ll carry with us forever.
Our trip is becoming a really great mix of the big exciting experiences and the small memories. It’s cresting a hill to see the turquoise waters of the South Pacific crashing against the shoreline. It’s rounding a corner to see snow capped peaks towering overhead as we pass out of the rain forest. It’s also driving six hours, passing a good portion of the time with no available radio stations, and malfunctioning iTunes leaving us with no other listening selection except the vocal styling of Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina singing House at Pooh Corner. As we leave for Australia, we are grateful for all of the amazing experiences in New Zealand. House at Pooh Corner may leave something to be desired though. Enjoy: