Day 11 14/12/16
Well, I'm finally in the South Island! Yesterday, I took the ferry over from Wellington and drove an hour down to Nelson. The road here was windy. I drove through wine regions, fields of gold grass, pine forests and on windy mountain roads.
Today I'm in Abel Tasman National Park. I've walked about 7km into the park so far and I'm currently sitting at Appletree Bay eating tzatziki chips. There's no apple tree, I'm kinda disappointed by this. Abel Tasman is unique as you can only walk or water taxi into the park. I did not know this until I arrived this morning so I packed a day bag and I'm on a quest to walk 20kms today.
When I think of the South Island, I think of Mt Cook or Milford Sound - picture epic mountains, snow capped peaks and lakes as far as the eye can see. What I don't picture is lush green hills and crystal clear waters, but that's what Able Tasman is. I think I like it so much here because it took me by surprise.
In the late afternoon, I ended up walking out to an island (the tide had gone out) with my backpack above my head. I spent a few hours sunbathing on a little patch of sand surrounded by rocks, secret caves and warm water. As I was walking back at sunset, I ran into a group of people staying at a hostel nearby. We spend the night drinking whisky in a field where we could hear the waves crashing up on the sand. One boy had a guitar with him and I sang for everyone around a campfire for the first time in years.
Day 14 17/12/16
I just saw my first snowy mountain and glacier river! This morning I left Greymouth early after checking into a hostel to get some work done and picked up a couple hitchhiking. They're from Tennessee. We're heading to Franz Josef today... which means that yes, I'm about to hike a glacier AND go in a helicopter for the first time. So many firsts today!
Um okay, wow. So glacier hiking is my new favourite thing. My guide, Rachel told me about how she has hiked glaciers all over the world. She's been a guide in both New Zealand and Alaska. Brb I'm just going to quit my job and do that too. Apparently Franz Joseph is the steepest commercially hiked glacier in the world - it's also the fastest moving. We ducked under bridges made of ice, avoided caverns of rushing water, and carved out steps from the ice. I even drank some fresh water from the glacier, and it's possibly the greatest thing I've ever tasted. Like pure nothing.
The weather was moody up on the glacier which I loved. Although I'm sure a sunny day would be lovely, the low lying clouds, and mist rising and dancing around waterfalls on the sides of mountains made for so me epic photos.
Tonight I'm staying at a hostel again - because free wifi and also I need a hot shower after all my ice-capades. My new friend, Selma, and I decided it would be fun to do a sunset walk to the base of the glacier. We took cider in tea mugs and walked 4kms and back (mostly in the dark) to see the sun dip behind the glacier. It was wonderful.
Day 15 18/12/16
We left Franz Josef early. I had Amelia and her partner in my car again (the hitchhikers I picked up yesterday), and we set out for Wanaka, a five hour drive away. The rain was dense and we spent most of the trip listening to podcasts and feeling sad that we couldn't get out and enjoy a few sights along the way. The weather was so poor. We saw a man trying to hitch hike near Hokitika in the pouring rain and I felt guilty that I couldn't offer him a ride. We were packed to the brim.
Wanaka was warm and sunny. I dropped my new friends off in the middle of town and I found a campsite on the other side of the lake past Roy's Peak to have lunch at and nap. You better believe that 5 hours of driving in New Zealand makes you tired. On my way back into town for dinner, I picked up two guys who had just finished hiking Roy's Peak, Max and Tyler from New York and Boston. It worked out well. Literally as I was driving past the trail, they stuck their thumbs up and it was just great timing.
Although I only had planned to head to Wanaka for dinner, I ended up driving them all the way back to Queenstown - they promised to buy me a burger and a beer so how could I actually say no? We went out for drinks with some of their friends that night and I slept outside their hostel in my car.
Day 16 19/12/16
So I'm currently at the end of a dirt path I found - just north of Queenstown. I think there's a walking trail here to a river where people fish. I'm honestly kind of in the middle of no where tonight.
Today I went to Milford Sound. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to accurately articulate what it was like. The drive takes about 5 hours from Queenstown, not because it's far away, the road is just windy. It feels remote. There's no one around and no fuel after Te Anu. 3/4 of the drive is filled with usual South Island views, fields upon fields, mountains, lakes everywhere. But then you reach Fiordland and everything changes. It's raining when I start ascending up into the mountains. The clouds are low but the wind is blowing fast and I get glimpses of giants lingering above me. It's an eerie feeling having this giant formations lingering above you out of sight. Each peak here is taller that the tallest point in the entirety of Australia.
I stop at a tunnel that takes me through a mountain and down into a valley - the final descent to Milford. It starts snowing and I roll my window down, hands out, tears rolling down my face because I can't deal with how beautiful everything is.
I take a cruise through Milford Sound. It's kind of raining but I honestly don't mind. I meet some people from Geelong and share a cup of tea with them as we are given a tour of the history and nature of the place. I wonder how someone ever discovered this place, in the middle of nowhere.
I'm not even going to bother describing things to you - just look at my photos, seriously.
At the end of my tour, I'm sucking up the last of the wifi at the ferry terminal when I bump into Dan who I hiked the Tongariro Crossing with two weeks ago on the North Island! He had just completed walking the Milford Track and I was very jealous.
On my way back to Queenstown, the weather improved dramatically and I stopped by a campsite to rest. I read my book as some other campers lit a fire for the night - the smoke billowed into my car. I got out and went for a walk along a glacial river. The rivers here are odd, they snake their way through beds of stones in such a peculiar way. I make my way to a field covered in Lupins (those flowers everyone is always taking photos of in New Zealand) and I snap a photo that will forever be etched into my mind.
It got cold and I decided to leave the field and get back in my car. I drove off and as I passed Lake Te Anu, Mother Nature blessed me with the most spectacular sunset - you know, the kind where taking a photo won't do any justice for the situation. I snapped a photo anyway.
Day 17 20/12/16
The hardest thing about my adventure is working out what to do when I had no where to be. For someone who works from dawn til dusk on all sorts of projects, the concept of just sitting and enjoying the sunrise over the lake is a strange notion. I felt like I should be doing something. Hiking, getting dressed/ready for the day, finding somewhere with free wifi so that I can work. But at 6:53am there was no where I needed to be, and no where open for that matter. So I had to just sit there and deal with how perfect the sun looked rising over the mountains surrounding Queenstown.
Today I headed to Mt Aspiring National Park after being tipped off by a local paraglider. The road to the park isn't paved. I took my little Mazda 3 off road and through fiord crossings, mud, grass and everything in between. I was honestly so worried that I was going to damage the car.
It was the perfect summers day. Not too hot that it's uncomfortable and warm enough to enjoy a picnic under a waterfall without the mist making you cold. Which is exactly what I did. I found a parking spot in a field and went for a walk. I could hear water rushing and tried to find the source. I ended up stepping in a lot of mud in a sheep paddock to get there, but eventually I came across a rushing waterfall with a pool of water at the bottom. No one else was around. The grass was long and the warm breeze blew through it, making that delicious rustling sound. The sky was bluer than usual and there were snow capped mountains in the distance. I sat on a rock under the water and at lunch - today it was an apple, a mocha protein bar and a tin of tuna - before jumping into the water below the waterfall.
I walked back to the car wet, the breeze drying me off as I trudged back through the muddy field. I got changed and had a nap on my towel under a tree by the river.
I'm trying to maximise my time before Christmas - which I've decided I'm going to spend back up at Abel Tasman. I have a long way to drive before I get back there, so after watching sunset by Lake Wanaka, I drove halfway to Mount Cook and I'm currently parked in a random field with a bunch of other freedom campers outside of a tiny town. I plan to leave early.
Day 18 21/12/16
After a short two hour drive, I have finally arrived at Mt Cook. It's colder here, but ever so beautiful. The sunburnt grass pops against the unreal blue of the lake. I'm here today to walk the Hooker Valley Track and I set off early as there's bad weather predicted for the rest of the day.
The track is as beautiful as everyone said it was. Wooden boards weaving their way around alpine plants and glacier rivers. Back in Abel Tasman, I met a girl who helped build this track. The snow capped mountains left me breathless. I have never been this close to this much snow before - and in the middle of summer! Nothing like an impending avalanche to get you going, hey?
Day 20 23/12/16
I thought to myself, I could live here. In the middle of nowhere so far away from civilised society where the ocean meets the dense mountains. Where the water is crystal clear and blue where the birds can be heard and the stars seen. This is where I could live.