These past few weeks here in New Zealand have quite possible been the best of my life and have seen me do some pretty incredible things. As mentioned in my previous post, I recently went on a two-week road trip during the Easter break of my semester here and though I may be living of beans and toast for the next couple of weeks every single bit of it was worth it.
After a busy assignment season the three weeks prior, I was more than ready to drop the books and hit the road for a much needed break. Even the morning we left I spent it finalising a 3000 word essay just in time for catching the uber to the ferry terminal. The post-assignment-submittal-panic mode didn’t last long, though, as pretty soon it was off on the adventure of a lifetime! With me on this journey were three amazing friends I’ve made during my time in Wellington – all three exchange students from the USA.
Friday 12th April
We began our trip by taking the Interislander Ferry from Wellington across the Cook Strait to little town of Picton on the South Island. It is described as one of the official Great Journeys of New Zealand and with good reason. The views from the ferry as we left Wellington harbour and made our way across the strait and into the Marlborough Sounds were some of the most serene views I had ever had the pleasure of seeing (little did we know this was only just the tip of the stupendously-gorgeous-views-and-landscapes iceberg that is the South Island!).
By the time we docked in Picton it was dark and so we just made our way to our hostel for the night where we settled in and wandered the streets in search of dinner (we went with the classic pasta and sauce with two bottles of wine – arguably the best way to start). We cooked and ate our dinner, alongside the company of some pretty interesting individuals also staying at the hostel including, for example, two middle-aged German men – one teacher and one receptionist – who had been travelling all around the world for the past 6 months.
Saturday 13th April
It was up early on this day as we began our first full day of activities! We started by walking across the road to pick up our car from the rental company. This car is the vessel that took us the 3300 kilometres around the island that we drove and, in doing so, earned all our love and affection and the name Lisa. With our belongings crammed into the back of Lisa, we set off from Picton towards Abel Tasman. On the way there, we stopped by the Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve and experienced our first of many swing-bridges.
The Villa Hostel, where we stayed in Picton Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve (swing bridge not pictured) Tahanui Beach, Nelson
We had also intended to drive through the Queen Charlotte Road on leaving Picton (which is meant to be a beautiful drive along the coast) but good ol’ Google Maps failed us. On arrival in Nelson, we stocked up on some groceries, bought some deli lasagne from New World and hit the beach for the classic lasagne-and-beach combo (anyone? no one? makes sense). We enjoyed a few moments relaxing before having a little wander around and heading back into the car to continue the drive to Abel Tasman. There, we stayed in the cutest campground right outside the National Park gates that doubled as a farm and was (aptly) named Old Macdonald Farm. Among our neighbours were chicken, cows, horses, llamas (or alpacas – we never quite figured out which one) and the occasional human.
That night after dinner (tuna sandwich for me, canned ravioli or canned mac and cheese for my companions) we made our way to the Park Café at the gate of the park where we had heard that a New Zealand band called Aro was having a show as part of its album tour. It was a pretty off the cuff, ‘why not?’ decision and boy am I glad we made it as they turned out to be so good! Their mellow yet funky sound offered the perfect ambience for our ice creams and beers – definitely check them out on Spotify/Apple Music!
Sunday 14th April
Sunday morning was slightly rough as the night before was colder and wetter and the ground harder than we had anticipated. Nevertheless, we soldiered on and after about thirty minutes sitting in the car with the heating on to gain back the feelings in our toes, we were good to go! That day marked our first big hike as we walked the Abel Tasman Coastal Track from Maharau to Anchorage and back. The water was some of the most brilliant blues and green I had ever seen and against the coastal bush, coral rocks and sandy beaches made the 6 hour walk bearable!
The views from the track
That night after a much needed shower and snack break, we explored the surroundings of our campsite by looking for glowworms around the river bank before settling in for dinner and a night of Cabo. (Cabo is a New Zealand card game that my flatmate and I learned a while back and have been obsessed with ever since. We taught it to the other two girls on the trip and they become just as crazy about it as we did).
Monday 15th April
After packing up camp and a wonderful breakfast of plain rice pops and oat milk, it was back in Lisa to begin the drive down the West Coast (on what was fast becoming our favourite highway – State Highway 6). From Abel Tasman, we headed to the Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki – a formation of, you guessed it, pancake-stack-looking rocks along the coast – where we stopped for lunch before making our way down some more to the charming town of Hokitika. After setting up camp (we stayed about 10 minutes out of town on the shores of Lake Mahinapua), we hastily jumped back in the car to make our way back to town to catch the brilliant sunset at the conveniently named Sunset Point. There is no way to put into words the sunset that night so I’ll just let the pictures do the talking.
Pancake Rocks Sunset Point, Hokitka
After the long day of driving we chickened out of having to make dinner and opted to stuff ourselves with pizza instead in Hokitika town. We then made our way back to the campsite where we had a brilliant time stargazing and just taking in the beauty of the world around us.
Tuesday 16th April
The next morning we again hopped back into Lisa and made our way to Hokitika Gorge. This gorge is famed for it strikingly turquoise blue water, but on the day we were there river was a thick and brilliant cloudy grey (science!). I would liken it to if someone was painting with grey paint and hadn’t changed their paintbrush water in a while, it really was something else.
We then went back to town and spent the day exploring Hokitika on foot. Beginning with the local museum – where we learnt a fascinating amount about whitebait, and I was the first Kenyan to have ever visited! – we made our way round the several jade stores (which the area is well known for), second hand book stores, sock world (which turned out to not be as exciting as it sounded) and a local café. That afternoon, we went down to Fox Glacier to check out Lake Matheson which is known for, on a clear day, producing a picture perfect reflection of Mt. Cook behind it onto it’s crystal clear water.
Our original plan was to go to Franz Josef for the night. But, as a couple of the girls in our group wanted to skydive there and there were no jumps on the day we were going to do it, we opted to skip it and come back to it later, instead going further down to Haast where we spent the night. It made for a longer drive but it meant we were 2 hours closer to Wanaka, our stop for the next day and site of my near-death experience climbing Roy’s Peak.
Wednesday 17th April
Okay, so I exaggerate. It wasn’t near death, but it was quite possibly the most gruelling physical activity I have ever had to do. We got to the start of the track at about 9.30 AM and it was 12 PM the next day before my legs felt any peace. It took us a little over 3 hours of continuously steep uphill walking to reach the lookout where we stopped for a picnic lunch on the rocks overlooking the beautiful Lake Wanaka and it’s colour-filled surroundings. After a brief pause (by which I mean about 2 hours, just trying to feel my legs again), a couple of us went up for about another hour on even more uphill, more steep tracks to the summit, for even more incredible views.
The walk up … These pictures were taken about 2.5 hours in so we had done a bit, but were nowhere near done. The second peak from the right at the edge of the second photo is where the lookout is. The summit is further along the ridge towards the left, just out of frame! Lookout at Roy's Peak The walk to Roy's Peak Summit and The Summit itself
While the views were absolutely stunning, and I am glad I did it, I am definitely not in a rush to do it again. And, to celebrate, that night we went to a local alehouse to treat ourselves to ice cream and cider, before, again, settling in with a night of Cabo.
Thursday 18th April
The next day we had a rather chilled morning. We started by getting some coffee and checking out the famous #ThatWanakaTree (yes, this is a thing). We then got some lunch and ate it on the waterfront, enjoying the view of the lake and the mountains before us.
That Wanaka Tree … and yes, that is a line of tourists waiting to take pictures of the tree.
We then piled back into our beloved Lisa and it was back on our beloved highway 6 down to Queenstown! On our way there we drove on the Cardrona Valley Road, a gorgeous stretch of highway that cuts through the rolling hills. On arrival in Queenstown we checked into the chaos that is Base Hostel, before hunting around for a laundry service to do some much needed washing. Clothes clean, we were then on the lookout for food. Before arriving into Queenstown we had heard of Fergburger, which is an almost cult classic burger restaurant and tourist favourite. The line outside the restaurant stretched for ages and was at least 2 hours long! Nevertheless, we gave into the hype. To escape the ridiculous lines we called ahead and picked up our order only 15 minutes later when it was ready (#lifehack) and I am happy to say the burgers really do live up to the hype – they were some of, if not the best I have ever had, and decently priced too!
And with that (bellies full and clothes clean) we wrapped up our first week, as I shall now wrap up this post. Keep your eyes peeled for part two where I talk you through how I was thrown off a ledge into a canyon, among other things …