I’m writing this in Christchurch, having finished my little drive around the South Island. I didn’t blog at all along the way, mainly due to either a) no electricity/internet b) being hungover c) didn’t have time d) no motivation. So it’s all in my head now, waiting to be written. I’ll get there. Handily, my trip naturally split itself into different parts:
- Part one: Christchurch to Queenstown
- Part two: Queenstown and Wanaka
- Part three: Queenstown to Milford Sound (and back again)
- Part four: West coast to Christchurch, via the north
A total of nearly 4000 km (just over 3000 miles) in 5 weeks.
But before I start on part one, I’ll tell you about how it came about. I met a guy called Mike in Hong Kong last September. We first met when I insulted him by asking where in Australia he came from. Back then I couldn’t tell the difference in accent. Now I can. Luckily, he’s a laid back guy and didn’t get offended, and we hung out for a couple of days before I flew to Thailand and he moved on to China. I happened to mention to him that I was going to New Zealand in 2014 and he offered to lend me his ute to drive around in. At the time I thought what an awesome offer but it was a long time to go until I would be in NZ so lets see how things go. Fast forward and we kept in touch, and lo and behold, Mike was a star and not only lent me his truck but also camping stuff AND arranged for me to stay with his mum while in Christchurch. Amazeballs. Just one more example of how great and kind strangers, especially in the travelling world, can be. Restores your faith in humanity somewhat, especially because there is no agenda, no reason for it other that just be be bloody nice. Sometimes you can never pay these acts of kindness back, all you can do is pass it on. And pass it on I will.
So, after a few days of sorting the car out (getting it re-registered, warrant of fitness etc) and picking stuff up from Mike’s house (and scaring his cousin’s partner half to death by appearing to be, on the face of it, a burglar), I was ready to rock and roll.
I hadn’t driven in over a year. For a fleeting moment I wondered whether I’d remember how to do it, but then reminded myself not to be so stupid, I’ve nearly been driving as long as I’ve not been driving so forgetting how to drive would be similar to forgetting how to speak or dress myself (although you’d maybe question these two things if you’ve seen me at 3am after a night of tequila). I did get confused with the handbrake in the ute though. It’s a pull out lever thing, not a stick. Luckily, I got shown where it was. Pretty sure I’d still be trying to figure it out now if I hadn’t.
So, one Monday morning, 5 weeks ago, I set out from Christchurch with the sun shining, music on the stereo, a map and the open road. Just me, the ute and a tent in the back. There’s something pretty special and liberating about travelling alone, but even more so for me when I was driving myself around. I could stop anywhere I wanted, whenever I wanted. I made my own route with no time scales, no dates to be anywhere, no pressure.
The first bit of the drive was through countryside that looked fairly familiar to Lincolnshire. Yep, if I shut my eyes I could have pretended I was back at home. Obviously didn’t do this, what with driving and all. But it didn’t last long, we don’t have mountains in Lincolnshire, and it soon started to get a bit hilly, and the scenery started to look like what I’d imagined the South Island to look like. I still remember the first photo stop I did. I don’t know exactly where it was, but it was a river that was stunningly blue, flanked by hills and trees. I thought it was beautiful. I soon learnt I hadn’t seen anything yet.
My first proper stop was Lake Tekapo, where I camped for a couple of nights. Lake Tekapo is beautiful. Hang on, before I go on, let me say this: the whole of the South Island is beautiful. It’s more than beautiful. It’s stunning, amazing, incredible, inspirational, breathtaking, varied, different, outstanding, welcoming, magnificent, awe-inspiring, exquisite and fascinating. I, and all of the people I met along the way, regularly ran out of words to describe it. On more than one occasion I was speechless (yep, it does happen occasionally). So, I’m just putting them all out there right now, in an attempt to not repeat myself in the rest of these posts. It’s safe to assume that all the places I’m going to write about are covered in one of the words above.
Lake Tekapo: a turquoise lake surrounded by mountains, with lots of walks. Which is pretty much how I spent a couple of days here. It was the first outing for my new tent, which I put up in the rain. Amazing how quick you learn what goes where for an unfamiliar tent when it’s raining and your bed for the night is in danger of being waterlogged (maybe a slight exaggeration, it was only drizzling).
I climbed to the top of Mount John, where the world famous observatory is (Lake Tekapo is said to be the clearest place in the world to see the stars. I didn’t go up there at night, but on my second night the sky did indeed put on a pretty good show), sitting at the top for over an hour just admiring the views. My first time being almost overwhelmed with what nature had laid out before me (and well worth the bloody hard slog up the hill as my rib was still pretty painful at that point, making breathing a little bit difficult). I saw the Church of the Good Shepherd (maybe the church with the most picturesque view in the world) and walked around the lake in the morning eerie mist, with clouds shrouding the whole mountains and lake, making me feel like the only person around for miles.
On the morning I left, I chatted to an older chap called Anthony, an extremely well spoken older gentleman in the wine trade, who had just been for a chilly dip in the lake. It was a most pleasant conversation, only made slightly odd when he proceeded to change out of his swimming trunks into his shorts and t-shirt under a very small towel, all the while holding a conversation with me. Not forgetting the part where he’d got out of his trunks and said he’d ‘drip dry’ for a bit. Awkward? Not really, I’m starting to see it all while travelling. Literally.
I headed onward to Mount Cook National Park. A pretty spectacular drive along blue Lake Pukaki, snow capped mountains in the distance. This is what I imagined it to be like. This is what took my breath away.
Another couple of days here, just walking this time. There’s not a lot here; a very basic DOC (Dept of Conservation) campsite and that’s about it, but it’s all about the walking. I did the Hooker Valley glacier walk (so very pretty), and the Sealy Tarns walk, 2200 steps up the side of a mountain. Amazingly hard work as I was still suffering breathing issues due to my broken rib but totally worth it for the view and the chat with Tim from Shropshire. Lovely chap who had come to NZ on his own, his first solo trip and was loving it. One of those people that you can just chat with for ages, about all kinds of things, and I had a lovely dinner with him and Oliver from Germany that night. It beat the night before where I ended up packing my tent up at 2am in the rain and howling gale force winds because if I hadn’t, my tent wouldn’t have lasted much longer. I abandoned sleeping outside and slept in the back of the ute, which was swaying about in the wind all night. Not the best night’s sleep I’ve had, but, while travelling, I’ve not had a proper good nights sleep in over a year now. I can’t remember the last time I slept the whole way through since I’ve been away. Well, apart from any night where tequila’s been involved anyway. See, tequila has it’s uses. Good tequila.
Mount Cook to Arrowtown. Probably two of the most different places I’ve been to. Mount Cook: remote national park with huge mountains and snow and stuff. Arrowtown: small historic mining town that’s straight out of a country and western movie. Honestly. It’s like a film set. I actually loved it here, and ended up staying 3 nights. Spent the days walking, eating and just lounging about. Lovely little place to do it, especially as the sun was out (although, bizarrely, I had my coldest nights in the tent here). I also nearly ate myself into a sugar-induced coma due to the creme brulee fudge they sold in the sweet shop. Also, anyone thinking of coming here, get a pie from the bakery. Del-ici-ous. Just maybe don’t follow it with a huge block of fudge. Although really, as I’m on holiday, there’s no calories right? No wonder I have a nice little layer of travelling fat. I did try and make up for it by going on a little jog.
Arrowtown is only just down the road from Queenstown, home to all things adrenaline; all those things I couldn’t do thanks to that drinking session in Sydney. Queenstown deserves it’s own post as my time there was certainly adventurous, although not in the adrenaline sense. That’s part two.