Travelogue: South Island, New Zealand

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.
NZ South Island - scenery 3

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!
NZ South Island - Queen Charlotte Track 1 NZ South Island - Queen Charlotte Track 3 NZ South Island - Queen Charlotte Track 2

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.

This was the view from my campsite in the morning:
NZ South Island - camping by road 1 NZ South Island - camping by road 2

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!
NZ South Island - Able Tasman scenery 2

The west coast of the south island: on our way down south to our next destination, we stopped by:

– The longest swing bridge in New Zealand, at Buller Gorge:
NZ South Island - Buller Gorge bridge

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.
NZ South Island - Buller Gorge swingbridge portrait

– The pancake rocks of Punakaiki: basically, it’s some layered rocks?  Shaped like stacked pancakes?  Nature is weird.
NZ South Island - Punakaiki pancake rocks

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.
NZ South Island - Punakaiki blowhole portrait

When I saw this sign, I was indeed swerving all over the road trying to enjoy the coastal view:
NZ South Island - scenery 1 NZ South Island - scenery 2

– 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:
NZ South Island - Hokitika eels

There was also this cute fella – apparently a common aquarium pet from Mexico?
NZ South Island - Hokitika cute aquarium creature

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.

Continuing on from Fox Glacier, we saw some pretty cool mirror lakes:
NZ South Island - mirror lake

We also saw this tree and placard, put up by some kind soul:
NZ South Island - water me please

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.

In the Fiordlands though, I saw this amazing road sign:
NZ South Island - amazing road sign

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:
NZ South Island - Intercargill museum sealing

There was also this cool lizard – apparently this guy is 100 years old!
NZ South Island - Intercargill old lizard

Bluff: the southernmost place that actually matters on the south island of New Zealand.  Here, we saw nothing but fog:
NZ South Island - Bluff

Catalin National Park: traveling east from Intercargill and Bluff, we made our way through Catalin National Park, where we saw:

– Seals / sealions!  Here, a couple of seals are having some sort of a town hall meeting.
NZ South Island - sealion meeting

And meanwhile, this guy just watches from a distance – and then eventually falls asleep.  I was suddenly reminded of my days working in finance.
NZ South Island - sealion aloof

– The Actual Southern-most Point of the South Island, where there is Absolutely Nothing of Interest:
NZ South Island - southernmost point of NZ

– A fossilized forest!  Can you see the remnants of where trees fell over and fossilized?
NZ South Island - fossilized forest

Amongst the rocks, I spotted the world’s rarest penguin:
NZ South Island - worlds rarest penguin

– Niagara Falls, New Zealand.  While taking a picture of these falls, I slipped on algae and fell in.  That’s right, I went over Niagara Falls, without a barrel, and survived.
NZ South Island - Niagra Falls 1 NZ South Island - Niagra Falls sign NZ South Island - Niagra Falls 2

My pants got quite a soaking, but fortunately my camera survived.
NZ South Island - Niagra Falls wet

Dunedin: going north from the Catalins, we visited Dunedin, famous for having the steepest street in the world, which we climbed in the rain:
NZ South Island - Dunedin steepest road 1 NZ South Island - Dunedin steepest road 2

No, seriously!
NZ South Island - Dunedin steepest road sign

In this city, I also visited the Cadbury factory, where I got to try roasted coacoa beans – the closest you can get to 100% dark chocolate.  It was quite bitter, but somehow delicious:
NZ South Island - Dunedin Cadbury factory cocoa

I also visited the Speights brewery, and learned that the Speights is apparently the New Zealand equivalent of Budweiser, courtesy of this amazing poster:
NZ South Island - Speights Man

Moeraki Boulders: on our way north from Dunedin, we saw the amazing natural attraction of the Moeraki boulders. That’s right, rocks.  Giant, spherical rocks:
NZ South Island - Moeraki boulder

And of course, I had to climb the boulder:
NZ South Island - Moeraki boulder portrait

Steampunk HQ, at Omaru: in the smallish town of Omaru, I visited a pretty cool steampunk museum (how is that possible?)  It was pretty small, but pretty cool:
NZ South Island - Omaru steampunk train 1 NZ South Island - Omaru steampunk train 2

I found it quite interesting, how the presence of light can change an exhibit.  Some exhibits with and without flash:
NZ South Island - Omaru steampunk light NZ South Island - Omaru steampunk dark

And then finally, we made our way to the earthquake-shaken city of Christchuch!  This city will get its own post.
NZ South Island - scenery 4

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