I was thinking today as the weather in Melbourne is finally getting cold, the nights getting darker and longer, that I’ve been letting my writing slip past me. Looking back, the journey between New Zealand and now looks like done of those dramatic structures we used in school. So many little things have happened in these past few months, and I can’t believe I haven’t discussed my favourite parts of my last trip. So, here we are.
I last spoke about my first few weeks on the North Island. Turns out I got to revisit it recently, but that’s another story. Though the North provided a lot of valuable experiences and contained several of the trips’ highlights, it was the beauty of the South that stole my heart.
From Wellington, we took the ferry (which is a miserable experience if you’ve had drinks the night before) over to Picton which connects you with the beginning of the south. This would be the day I would say bye to Ani and Bridie, a Canadian couple who were spending some time in Nelson. The allure of the South began to shine as we drove through the first small towns of the voyage. I would go back to Nelson if I could, or do WHV work there, as the backdrop seemed lovely and the town seemed just vibrant enough to keep one amused.
Our first night stop was Kaiteriteri, otherwise known as Abel Tasman National Park. The south was where I really began to feel regret for not giving myself time in more places. Abel Tasman is simply stunning, and I learned this after thankfully booking an evening sail with a small group of travellers. The sun was setting, our guides joined us, along with a group of girls I had gotten to know. We sailed out to Split Apple Rock, enjoying the views and some drinks as well. I carried on the next day, while many decided to stay and enjoy a full day kayak.
I wouldn’t say that Westport was a “non-town”; if you want to surf it’s a good spot. However, as I wasn’t, I could only comment on how the hostel was decent. This was the first day where I didn’t know anyone on my bus, but after lamenting my newfound loneliness, a guy told me he was making dinner with others if I wanted to join. This became the group I’d spend my time with until nearly the end of my trip in New Zealand. Mo, Nadia, David, Tamir and Moritz were cooking shakshukah and over that delicious meal I found some worthy travel friends. We went to a pub in town, if you could call it that, and had a few drinks as their only patrons. We went to bed that night hopeful for a more eventful next day.
Boy, did we get it. From Westport was on to Lake Mahinapua. Again, Lake Mahinapua was more of an overnight stop than anything. As you enter the hostel bar, you see years of Kiwi Experience groups enjoying different themed parties and wonder where they’ve ended in their lives (take me to get nostalgic over a Kiwi Ex thing). The two companies must have a tight bond, and for them, it works. Our group was much tamer than all the rumours I’d heard, but Lake M is the place where you’re SUPPOSED to let your hair down. Our driver told us on the ride over that our theme was garbage bags. Great. I’m not creative with these things. My friend Madyson thrives on costume making, and goes all in to create exceptional designs. I was the bane of sorority mixers because I struggled to make an effort. We entered a dollar shop and I tried, oh, did I try. When Nadia and I got to the hostel, everyone was out enjoying the hot tub or down at the lake… while Nadia and I struggled in the pub lounge trying to come up with something. The night was messy, and lots of fun, but I will never understand how the winners of the night’s competition came up with the amazing jellyfish and characters that they did. Me? Wizard fail.
From Lake Mahinapua was onto Franz Josef Glacier. I had two and a half days here and used the time recharge. Because of the glacier and the rainforest in which we resided, the weather was mostly one thing: rain. Sometimes a sprinkle, or downpour, but always, rain. I did nothing that first day but go for drinks with some British people I met in my hostel. The second day was a lot of catching up on the blog, paying bills, reading, and otherwise down-timey stuff. I sometimes feel when I travel that I need to be GO-GO-GO and heaven forbid I have a day in limbo with nothing much to do. I enjoy the odd lazy day back in my normal life, so why change when travelling? I suppose, when you travel, you set this expectation that you have to be seeing and doing everything, of making the most of your time. The next day, the rain finally cleared, and I managed to enjoy a beautiful hike with the ‘crew’. Playing 20 questions, we walked from town right to the base of the Franz Josef Glacier. It was beautiful. I had a couple drinks with the crew that last night, then it was off to the next one. I believe we left Moritz behind at that point, but caught up with him later. We luckily managed a few stops and hike near Lake Matheson and Mount Cook which turned out to be some of the best photos I took.
WANAKA. (Wa-na-ka); Definition: Another beautiful place with a gorgeous lake and mountain backdrop where you will ultimately wish you’d been smart and booked more time in. Such is life. We arrived here late afternoon and I only had the night to enjoy the town. Nadia was sick and the boys wanted to relax, so I felt solo for the first time in awhile. I hauled some cider, a journal, music and my bathing suit down to the water and wrote for a few hours. I have always felt an affinity for and calm near water. Like staring into a campfire, it is a time where I feel whole and reflect. I would not need meditation there, for my meditation is the water. Needless to say, it was a beautiful evening for me and it left me feeling complete. Go there and you will understand why.
Wanaka leads us to Queenstown. The drive between these two places took my breath away. The rolling, sunburnt hills and deep blue waters were a beautiful contrast that gave way to seafoam ravines and sharper summits, rising high into the sky. We stopped into the AJ Hackett centre to get a talk about the different bungees and tandem swings you could do. I remember my heart palpitating and stomach dropping just watching the movies. Was I insane? Could I do this? I found myself walking zombie-like up to the counter and telling myself, “I still have two days.” We popped outside to a viewing platform to watch people do the 40 meter jump over water. Though scary, I also thought, it’s always been go big or go home for me. That jump was over in a second, and if I was going for the experience, I wanted it to count.
Queenstown blessed us with a beautiful afternoon by the time we arrived. Again, those I knew seemed to want to relax for the evening. When I get to a place, tired or not, I seem rejuvenated by a desperate need to explore my new surroundings. I stayed at Adventure Q2, a gorgeous hostel, and my third floor window backed onto a little park with, what’s that? A band? A jazz band? Yes please! I picked up a few drinks and went to go sit on the stones by the pond where a local jazz band was playing for free. Little kids danced like maniacs and older folk tapped their feet quietly. I felt like I’d gone from a tourist bus to a cozy community experience, and loved every minute.
We had our bus’ pub crawl that night and everyone met for dinner before heading to the first bar. The particulars of the night don’t matter, but it was a good time. I ran into a few people I hadn’t seen since the beginning of the trip, and it was funny to watch romances between bus members unfold as the drinks poured. I had one awkward experience as a guy I’d been speaking to on Tinder ended up at our last bar, along with a co-worker. I wasn’t for it, so we shared a few jokes and moved on. How ironic that the guy worked at AJ Hackett and was in fact in the cage on the day I did my bungee jump. The two other guys up there made wisecracks about the situation which only made me feel more nervous. I can tell you, if you’re debating a bungee or not, DO IT. Standing out on that ledge was indeed the most terrifying moment of my life (more than skydiving and hang gliding) and I don’t know how many expletives burst from my mouth in those two minutes, but man, that was seizing life. Your body is shaking when they pull you back up and your brain is processing the experience long after you’ve jumped. I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Other highlights of Queenstown… I had one really big day. I woke up at a good hour to take a Helicopter ride up to one of the summits around Queenstown. It was short- maybe 45 minutes- but the views overlooking the lakes and mountains was definitely priceless. I had never been in a helicopter before and wanted to gain the experience. I also went up on a gondola (Sky Rail) to have a drink and write in my journal. I met a kind American couple who were my companions for the evening. Other than that, biking around the lake and going for a wander was wonderful. The town reminded me of how I’d imagine Whistler to be. Hyper-touristy, but surrounded by enough nature and excitement to be totally worth it. Queenstown was the first place I’d been to since moving back to Australia/NZ where I thought I could move. It stole my heart, and I’d like to go back one day. There’s something to it that you can’t put into words- it’s a feeling.
When I left Queenstown, that was saying goodbye to Nadia and the crew. I’ll admit I haven’t spoken to them since then. That’s the nature of short-term travel. You make friends because you need to, or want to, but you’ve bonded in a moment and then it is gone. They’re off on the next adventure, you’re leaving on a plane. You hope the best for them, but know deep down you will never see them again. I have a hard time letting go of things, and am a pretty emotional person, so that day leaving Queenstown was rough. I felt like my trip was over, even though I still had three days left.
We drove out of Queenstown and arrived in Lake Tekapo. Old news here, but this was another place I’d recommend spending more time if you can. In spring, beautiful wildflowers grow and are the envy of Instagrammers everywhere. We arrived a touch late, but the scenery was still spectacular. I had partied with an irish lad in Queenstown who I realized was on my bus that day. We spent the afternoon going for a long walk around the lake, skipping stones, and talking life. It was very cathartic and reassured me for feeling the things I felt, and for being where I was in my life. Every journey is different, he said. If you are following your heart and you are happy, you are doing it right. Amen.
Tekapo to Christchurch. I can’t and won’t say much here. I wandered the downtown quarter with some people to discover what developments they’ve been making since the earthquake a few years ago. They’re making a good effort, but there is still a long way to go. They have turned old cargo bins into shops and eateries, and there’s some interesting art in the central core. I can’t fathom the efforts needed to rebuild a city in the wake of a natural disaster, but gosh darn, they’re trying.
Christchurch to Melbourne felt, from what I recall, weird. I was at the airport feeling sad, eating my takeaway and furiously sending Hamish photos of WA. I know that I don’t have issues with being settled, of working and being stable, but there is a constant call to adventure when I’m living over here. I seem to keep in the back of my mind that my days are numbered, and I want to get my hands on as much of this country before I finally, truly say goodbye (though in my head, I not so secretly dream of coming back years later with my loving husband and regaling him of the adventures of youth… 🙂 ).
I’ll leave it at that. I hope to get a post down on February and the post-NZ happenings of late sooner rather than later. If you’re reading, cheers, and I hope you’re well. Drop a line if it fancies you 🙂
Love from Melbourne,