The South Island of New Zealand is quite different from the North Island – whereas the north has a good balance of beautiful natural scenery and civilization, the scales of the south island are quite lopsided in favor of nature. More often than not, I had zero bars of reception on my cell phone – and no radio stations either! (Though I didn’t mind the lack of radio coverage – as it turns out, my travel partner and I have zero overlap in our music tastes).
From Picton, a tiny town on the top of the South Island, we drove down the western mountainous coast of the southern island, taking hikes and climbing glaciers, before visiting the breathtaking fiordlands to the southwest corner of the south island. Then, we followed the southern scenic route down the southern edge of the south island, and traveled back up through the eastern coast to earthquake-shaken city of Christchuch.
My route plotted on Google Maps!
The Queen Charlotte track: from Picton, we started on a hike through the Queen Charlotte track – a three day tramp (hike) through the wilderness! Unfortunately, due to the rainclouds following us all the way from Auckland, we could only do a day trek, but check out these amazing photos!
Camping on the beach near the track, we found ourselves visited by a weka – one of New Zealand’s native flightless birds, which we initially thought to be a kiwi. These inquisitive birds have no fear of humans, and are known for jumping into traveler’s cars and stealing their lunches. A fellow traveler confided me in that you can also feed them beer, get them drunk, and watch them drunkenly meander around.
Interestingly, before heading into the Queen Charlotte Track, I struck up a conversation with some middle-aged Australian travelers, who told me about how many years ago their son had gone to Japan to teach English, got married and stayed, and ended up as an English consultant at various Japanese universities, traveling the world and helping professors translate their published works into English for research magazines. I was quite jealous! When we returned from the track, we found they had left us a gift of apples, the softest, juiciest, and most delicious apples I have ever tasted, freshly picked (stolen) from a nearby orchard.
Check out the fog that I had to drive through. And yes, I was driving on twisting, turning mountain roads.
Sea Kayaking at Able Tasman National Park: after the Queen Charlotte track, we spent a couple of days sitting around reading, waiting for the rain to clear so that we could do a three-day sea kayaking trip in Able Tasman National Park. Trip details will be a separate post!
The west coast of the south island: on our way down south to our next destination, we stopped by:
This is how you conquer your fear of heights. First, you cross the bridge holding onto the handrails for dear life. Then, when you get comfortable, you start jumping up and down on the swing bridge – but unfortunately (or fortunately), the physics of swingbridges is different from the physics of trampolines. Next, you cross the bridge without holding onto the handrails. Then, in your moment of glory, you cross with your eyes closed, stumble, almost drop your camera 100 meters into the river, and vow never to do that again.
Punakaiki also had blowholes – when the sea is strong and frothy during high tide, water rushes into a cave, hits a wall, and escapes by blowing out the top of the cave, dowsing some poor unsuspecting tourist and his camera. Fun! Pity we didn’t get to this town during high tide.
– The national kiwi sanctuary, in Hokitika: I gave up on trying to see a kiwi in the wild, and instead saw one in captivity. The kiwi will get its own article later, but there was some other cool stuff in the sanctuary, such as 100 year old eels:
Fox Glacier: some people go to beaches on vacation, and sip pina coladas. Some people ride a chairlift up a mountain, and skii or snowboard down on a groomed, maintained trail (yes, Mike, I am calling you out). On my travels, I climb a friggin glacier, complete with crampons and alpenstocks. Fox Glacier gets its own post.
Queenstown: the over-priced, over-hyped, under-impressive adrenaline rush capital of New Zealand gets its own post. It totally doesn’t deserve it though.
Fiordlands: the nature & scenery capital of the south island, the fiordlands gets its own post. Honestly though, by this point in my journey, I’ve had it up to here with scenery. Surprisingly, once you’ve seen enough breaktaking views, they stop taking your breath away.
Intercargill: finally, civilization! Internet for the first time in more than a week! Here, I bought a $5 pizza from Dominos, and ate the entire thing in less than two minutes. No photos here, I hate too quickly. This town had a pretty cool museum, showing the history of sealing in the area:
Catalin National Park: traveling east from Intercargill and Bluff, we made our way through Catalin National Park, where we saw:
And then finally, we made our way to the earthquake-shaken city of Christchuch! This city will get its own post.