03/06/2013 - 18/06/2013
We kicked off our southern adventure in Nelson, a town in the north east corner of the island that attracted us chiefly because of its proximity to the famed Abel Tasman National Park, New Zealand's smallest national park but also among the most beautiful. After making the bus trip into the park, we set off on what was supposed to be a pleasant walk along the Park's coastal track, with stunning views over the ocean. For the first couple of hours all went to plan; it was chilly and overcast but we had come prepared in warm clothes and the scenery was stunning. Unfortunately we were not destined to finish the track. Two hours into the walk the heavens opened and what felt like a whole lake's worth of water poured down on us, soaking us to the bone as we retreated to the shelter of the local village, cursing the cruel timing of New Zealand's fickle winter climate.
Our next stop was the ridiculously small town of Punakaiki, made up essentially of a couple of streets of hotels and pubs that surround Pancake Rocks, a strange formation of rocks that appear to be stacked on top of each other in thin layers, like pancakes. There are several information boards that attempt to explain how the formations have come about, but the truth seems to be that nobody really knows. The rocks are accompanied by a series of blowholes that appear where the sea has eroded holes in the rock at angles; the sea water is driven into the holes from the bottom and sprays out of the top in spectacular fashion.
We then moved on to Fox Glacier, one of the highlights of the trip. At 13kms long, Fox is the longest of New Zealand's west coast glaciers, plummeting 2600m from the base of the Southern Alps. We reached the glacier via an easy one-hour walk that culminates in a track through a canyon with steep rock and waterfalls on either side, ending with a tiring climb to the base of the glacier. With Mount Cook towering in the background, this huge sheet of ice makes an impressive sight.
Queenstown was next, and its cosy, small-town feel endeared it to us immediately. It is the epitome of a winter town; the air is crisp, snow-capped mountains loom in the distance, and every morning you awake to a thick white mist blanketing the town. Although the main winter pastime is skiing, we found plenty to occupy us for a couple of days. Our hostel looked out over a beautiful lake, and on the edge of the town were some lovely gardens where you could entertain yourself with Frisbee Golf.
We also hit a highpoint food-wise in the shape of the famous fergburger. Fergburger is an immensely popular burger shop that is perpetually full, serving burgers almost the size of your head packed with meat, salad and a perfect aioli sauce. It wouldn't be going too far to say that this was the best burger I have ever had; your life is not complete until you've tried one.
After a quick stop in Oamaru to visit the yellow-eyed penguin colony, we headed to Christchurch with very little idea of what to expect. The city was ravaged by an earthquake in 2011, and on arriving it was clear the city is still recovering. The majority of buildings in the city centre either collapsed in the earthquake or were pulled down later after being declared unstable, and as a result walking through the city feels rather like being in a post-apocalyptic world where the last humans have retreated to strongholds and left the world to crumble. The city is being rebuilt one area at a time, and in the meantime quick-fix projects have been set up to add some cheer to the city. The best of these is the Re:Start Mall, a collection of coffee shops and independent fashion boutiques housed in huge shipping containers.
An assortment of quirky displays known as 'Transitional City Projects' also litter the city; these include a free Dance Mat near the shopping mall and a 'cardboard cathedral' that appears to have been made out of playing cards. When we arrived it appeared to be being made into a proper church. We came across a cool idea just at the end of our hostel's street; an ice-creamery had fallen down in the earthquake and in its place there now stands one of its freezers, converted into a book exchange. All these projects send out a message from the residents of Christchurch that they may be down, but they are certainly not out.
Our last stop was Kaikoura, where we shunned the highly-expensive whale watching in favour of a visit to the seal colony that sunbathes on the shores a short distance from town. The day was cloudy and windy, casting a foreboding grey tone over the sea and mountains and making for some great stormy photos. We trekked out to the edge of town, rounded a corner...and almost walked into a pair of seals who had decided to take a nap on the boardwalk. Although signs advised keeping your distance, the seals seemed to have no qualms about sleeping on and around the paths and car park by the sea edge, so we managed to get quite near to them, although their pungent smell ensured we didn't get too close.
So ended our New Zealand adventure! While we have loved our time here, it was with some relief that we headed to the airport towards Japan and its hot climate. As we flew over the Pacific Ocean, peeling off our winter layers, we waved a fond farewell to New Zealand; not so much 'goodbye' as 'auf wiedersehen'. We will be back.