I have been blessed with an incredible two week semester break. With my friends that have quickly become like sisters to me, Kelly and Estrella, I’ve explored beautiful places, have had fun adventures, and have made new friends from around the world. Taking the Stray bus tour around the South Island of New Zealand will be an experience that I won’t soon forget. I’ll do my best to jot down the highlights of each day of the 2 week excursion (in two parts).
Day 1, Saturday – And We’re Off
Experienced a brand new concept early in the morning. Airports close apparently. At least domestic ones. Kelly, Estrella, and I had a 6:10am flight from Auckland to Christchurch and arrived before 5am to check in. The airport didn’t open until 5am, but when it opened, we checked in with no problems. Security check was a breeze. Shoes stayed on and water stayed in our bottles. I even brought food in through to the gate. While at the gate, I happened to recognize Paul, one of the three guys I met while at Waiheke Island. As it turned out, Paul was on the same Stray bus as us, which was to leave the following morning. I thought was a neat coincidence.
When we arrived in Christchurch, Kelly, Estrella, and I took a bus into the city and stumbled around the red zone (the center of the city, now destroyed) caused by last year’s earthquake. We stayed at a cozy hostel that I really enjoyed, Chester Street Backpackers. After we had breakfast at a nearby café, we went punting on the Avon River. The freedictionary.com defines a punt as “An open flatbottom boat with squared ends, used in shallow waters and usually propelled by a long pole” – in case you didn’t already know what it was. I loved it. The river was beautiful, and our guide (although a bit corny) was friendly. Afterwards we visited the botanical gardens adjacent to the Avon River as well as the Canterbury Museum. I learned during our trip that Christchurch is the location of some of the cleanest water in the world.
In the evening, Kelly and I attended an Easter vigil. In trying to find the church, I led us to the wrong side of the red zone (as the street that the church is on cuts through the red zone), so we were a little late. Though I’m not catholic, I was happy to celebrate Easter. I like Christchurch. Walking around certain parts by the red zone was strangely exciting – it felt like a scene out of an apocalyptic movie. The city reminded me of New Orleans with all of the built up devastation that looked helpless to resurrect. The people there seemed hopeful, but I only have a vague sense of that.
Day 2, Sunday – Taken By Stray
We met our fourth travel mate who is also a U.S. study abroad student at The University of Auckland, Julie. We gathered at the bus stop, ready for the Stray bus tour. The bus took us to our first overnight stop, The Adelphi Hostel in Kaikoura, which is on the east coast of NZ’s South Island.
Us four girls took a three hour tramp around the Peninsula on a pleasant walking path. The scenery was gorgeous. Near the end of the coastal track, we came really close to fur seals. They were just sleeping in the grass – and they looked so cuddly!
Day 3, Monday – Picton
I woke early in Kaikoura at 6:30am, and spent my time strolling along the beach. I was a great way to start the day – incredibly relaxing. On the way back to the Adelphi hostel to meet the Stray bus, an elderly local man named Dan struck up conversation with me about the local polluted rivers that I had just crossed a bridge over. He claimed that the pollution was caused by dairy farmers letting waste into the water. It was interesting to get a local’s point of view.
The Stray bus took us into Picton just after lunchtime. Picton is in the northeastern area of the South Island and receives the ferries that come in from Wellington on the North Island. We stayed at a quaint hostel called ‘The Villa’.
Kelly and I walked the popular Snout Trail. It was hilly, but offered great views of the bay and of Queen Charlotte’s Track across the water. That particular track takes a little less than a week to cover.
Day 4, Tuesday – Fishing for Air
Kelly, Estrella, Julie, and I left The Villa a little after 8am with a malfunctioning fishing pole in our possession – lent to us free from The Villa. We wound up making attempts at casting the line into the shallow harbor in Picton with no bait and no real intention of catching anything. Afterwards, we messed around at a nearby playground and did some souvenir shopping.
The Stray bus picked us up in the afternoon with a new driver (he calls himself Horse). Our next destination was the Abel Tasman. Along the way there, we stopped at Bouldervine Vineyards for $2 wine tasting, and we also made a stop at the Pelorus Bridge, where a scene out of the soon-to-be-released ‘The Hobbit (2)’ movie was filmed.
In Marahau (Able Tasman) we stayed at a place called The Barn. Kelly, Estrella, Julie, and I got a huge tent complete with beds, which was pretty cool. We stayed at The Barn for 2 nights. Marahau is near the north western corner of the South Island, and the Abel Tasman, a national park, is a place of beauty.
Day 5, Wednesday – Rain Only Adds to the Fun
Kelly and I rented a two person kayak to take out onto the waters on the Abel Tasman, despite the rain that hit the area. Matthias from Germany, and Roberto from Canada (both of whom we met on the Stray bus) joined us. I wasn’t about to let the rain stop me from kayaking the Able Tasman as I had had my heart set on the activity since I had read about it back in The States. We were out on the water by 10am and set out for a large island where we were told that we might encounter fur seal pups – and we did! They came up very close to us; we could have reached out with our paddles and touched them. Some of the adult seals swam all around and under our kayaks. After enjoying the seals company for a while, we made our way to a beach on the mainland and had lunch. We then made our way south, where we had come from, and made an hour and a half trip to Split Apple Rock – which was actually a really neat feature. There were caves as well that Kelly and I tried to squeeze our kayaks into, but failed to. :) The trip wound up being 5 hours in total. Although it was cloudy and quite rainy at times, we got to experience a more eerie beauty of the Abel Tasman which I was thoroughly impressed with. The weather being the way it was, we avoided sun exposure, large crowds, and we felt pretty hardcore paddling our way through the ocean in the rain and watching the fog roll in fast down the mountains.
That evening, we ate at a burger joint called The Fat Tui. Great burger and awesome flavors. My best description for it is that it’s a burger with a salad on top.
Day 6, Thursday – The Wild West
Travel day with some cool stops was what this day consisted of. One of the stops was at Tauranga Bay, where we saw a seal colony and some funny little birds that looked part kiwi and part dinosaur and that I cannot remember the name of. Watching the creatures running and chasing each other was hilarious. They had more of a sprinted waddle than an actual run. The ocean was beautiful. I feel as though I’ve fallen more in love with the ocean since I’ve been in NZ. I was completely content just watching the water come in in multiple waves over itself while I stood on the shore. After those views, we saw some more spectacular features when we went to the Punakaki Pancake Rocks. I found the rock formations to be stunning. You can see for yourself in the pictures, although they don’t depict how cool it really was.
Our final destination was Greymouth on the west coast. There really wasn’t too much going on. A bunch of us went to a brewery tour at Monteith’s brewery, where, the actually brewery is being rebuilt, so we only got to see a video tour. But, to make up for it, we got to do some beer tasting and had a free meal at a nearby restaurant.
Day 7, Friday –Double Rainbows
Friday morning I spent perusing the streets of Greymouth until it was time to leave. We had 2 Stray busses pick us up because of the excess people that joined in at Greymouth. I hopped on the new, smaller bus, with a new driver called Digger. We stopped at lovely Lake Iantha, and we saw many full, and vibrantly colored rainbows along the way – including double rainbows which I had never seen before. We made our way to Franz Josef, home of the Franz Josef Glacier, where we stayed at the Rainforest Retreat for the night.
Many of the Stray travelers planned on hiking the glacier, but apparently, the day before our arrival, the hikes were stopped. The glacier shifted, blocking off hiking access to tourists from the bottom. As an alternative, many people took a short helicopter ride up the glacier and spent some time on the ice. Because that was a little more pricey than the glacier hike had been, Julie, 3 other girls from Stray, and I booked our own trips to the nearby smaller Fox Glacier for the following day.
Day 8, Saturday – Fox Glacier
The 5 of us girls did a half day hike in the morning up the Fox Glacier. We had a great guide and perfect weather. The glacier and surrounding setting were beautiful. I really enjoyed hiking the glacier – stomping the clampons (metal spikes tied to your shoes) into the ice, and touching the cool blue ice with my bare hands was humbling.
Later in the afternoon, I did nearby nature walks with Kelly, Julie, Hyongzu (one of the girls I hiked Fox with), Morgan (from Stray), and Roberto. We hiked for a few hours, and eventually it was just Kelly and I left out of our group. Everyone else went back to the hostel earlier. It was a well spent day.