The South Island
Things looked better once we got to the South Island. We haven’t been forgotten even once. It has been a while since our last update, but click on the mid-November update to see some of our earlier trials.
One dark and rainy night (In New Zealand???), Mari and I arrived at Wellington. We found that the 1am ferry was half price and decided to stay up all night. We hit the town with a new inspired vigor (one that was often lost as one town gently grew into the next as we wandered the countryside). We found the museum was free and open late, and after being kicked out at closing, found an Irish pub with a live band that warmed our feet. A Turkish restaurant left us with little time to kill, and we headed to the ferry.
We were wondering what we would miss by crossing from the North to South Island at Night. We slept pleasantly for 4 hours, and woke up in Picton.
When the day ferry arrived we were greatly relieved. A storm had moved in and there was lots of cloudy sky, swaying boats and pewking passengers. We had missed all that, and were one of few that boarded the bus without a green face.
Nelson was our first stop, a gorgeous little town. We stored some gear, bought some food and headed for the Abel Tasman National Park.
For four days, Mari and I were treated to a peaceful and relatively flat hike along the coast of the Northern tip of the South Island. New Zealand, we realized, was truly a beautiful country. We hiked along huge sections of deserted sand beaches and tanned under a sun that we never saw in Tongarriro. We camped under the stars, and hiked for 5 hours a day, filling the remaining time by snacking on chocolate and wading into the Ocean. We had reached our Honeymoon. After nearly a month, the vacation had started. As we watched another sunset, we knew life was good.
We got back to Nelson, and got back on the Kiwi Experience Bus. We had happy faces on, so there were no problems. The trip to the south included a seal colony visi, and a bus ride down the wild west coast amid snow capped mountains, and stunning coastal scenery.
The West Coast of New Zealand is considered wild for several reasons. One, the population is quite small and there seems to be a large sheep to person ratio. Another reason is that there seems to be very few building codes. An example of this is the number of one lane bridges. Over a journey of 100km, we had to stop over 6 times on the main highway because all the bridges were one lane. We laughed and laughed until one day we stopped for a one lane bridge WITH A TRAIN TRACK RUNNING DOWN THE CENTER. No word of exaggeration, this bridge was shared between two directions of cars and two directions of train (of course the trains were hauling beer, which took priority).
Our other traffic problem was sheep. Quite often the bus was forced to stop as we were swarmed on all sides by balls of fluff. The last time this happened was during a rain storm during which Mari hung out the door, camera in hand to document the event.
If you have your map handy, you will find Mt. Cook and Westland National Park. It was here that Mari and I started hiking once again. We spent a day hiking up to a glacier, which I insisted on standing on. Once I had dissapeared from site, we both heard a crack of thunder and looked up to see a huge slab of ice smash into the river. I was too close and felt the ground shake beneath me. Mari was further away, and for a brief moment was left wondering how close I had been.
The grand adventure of our trip had been our Gillespie Pass Hike. We took a bus to a small town of Makaroa, and decided to hike for two days. One day in and one day out. The town was small enough that buying food cost a lot, and we could afford only enough for one full day (3 meals).
We awoke on Wednesday morning, and headed to the park office. Since we were hiking in a wilderness mountain park (Mount Aspiring N.P.) we had to check in the morning we left. We hitched a ride with park staff, and started on the shores of the mighty Makaroa river. The river is glacial, fast flowing and 300 meters wide. We had to wade this, and did so in our sandals. It took over 30 minutes as water sloshed onto our shorts, and our feet numbed in the cold. We were ecstatic to hit the shore and start hiking.
After 7 hours, we left the treeline, and stared at a glorious mountain hut. The sun was just leaving a trace of amber light on the mountains, and both Mari and I hoped that our hike could last longer. When we entered the hut, our cries came true. An older couple had brought too much food, and offered us some. I stuffed my pack and we ended up having enough food for 3 extra days. The following morning the couple left us with a promise of telling park staff that we would be an extra day in the park.
Thursday we spent the day hiking over a Mountain Pass. We skied down a small slope and had a mini snowball fight, and re-entered the trees after 5 hours of hiking. We found another mountain hut, and went to sleep thinking this was the best hiking ever.
Friday was nothing like this at all. After hiking for one hour, we got off the trail. Instead of going back, we ventured further, hoping to meet the trail ahead. Instead we were led to steeper and steeper terrain, until we could not backtrack at all. We decided to follow the river, and were led into a canyon with rainforest vegetation over the top of rain soaked rock. We were trapped. Waist deep fast water blocked us one way, and dangerous cliffs blocked our other path. This continued for four hours, and we frantically struggled to climb our way out.
In a fit of frustration, my hands ripped to shit, we stopped. We double wrapped the camera and I went into the river. Halfway across, I lost my balance. Water was over my chest and pulling on the camera and I lept for a large stick. Half of my body was being pulled downstream, and I hung on to the log. I have no idea how I got out of there, but Mari had to cross behind me, and when she finally reached out a hand to me, I nearly pulled her arm off trying to get her across.
The far side of the river was flat, and we bounced from rock to rock as we headed downstream. We crossed the river again, but we were already as wet as we would get. To our delight, a boat showed up and Mari and I got a ride back to town. We slept like logs that night and beer never tasted so good.
By the way, we move to Australia on December 6. Keep watching this site for more.