Sure, Pete and I have had our fair share of adventure days… but an adventure month? First of all, where to stage such a frivolous romp? And could we organise such an ambitious expedition as we hurtled towards the finishing line of a degree and a PhD? Apparently not, but that didn’t stop us winging it- and having the time of our lives in the South Island of New Zealand.
We arrived in Christchurch mid-November, with a hostel booked for the first night and a ‘wicked’ van ready to be picked up the next day… the rest was left up to fate and our every whim and fancy. Whimsical and fanciful the trip was indeed- but how to best summarise this rambling trail for our fellow LUMCers? In categories of course! (Who doesn’t love some good old-fashioned categorisation?). Read on to discover the best and worst that the world’s biggest adventure playground had to offer us.
Grab a cup of tea at this point, the report turned out to be as epic as the trip…
TOP 10: MOST SPECTACULAR
- We had the pleasure of watching the most incredible sunset at Glendhu Bay. Initially I was suspicious that our perception may have been influenced by alcohol (it was the same day we had a bottle of wine for ‘afternoon tea’ and fell asleep on the grass), but photographic evidence confirms that the sky did in fact light up with flames of red and orange. However our reaction to said event may have been influenced by afternoon tea, as we dropped our forks mid-dinner… me squealing, “Now!, Quick!” and Pete sprinting off towards the horizon with his camera.
- Sometimes the most amazing discoveries happen when you have no expectations at all. One night we stopped at Ahuriri Bridge- a nondescript free roadside campsite. It was essentially a big gravel carpark with a complimentary drop toilet. After some tucker we went for a stroll, and as we ducked under the tree line we were met with the most beautiful field of wildflowers I have ever seen. They seemed to stretch on forever, only punctuated by the occasional rocky stream. I was obviously delighted as I pranced about taking photos, giving Pete unnecessary verbal descriptions of what he was also staring at, and even hugging the especially pretty ones (I am somewhat of a flower person).
- One of the top things on my wish list for the trip was to do tandem paragliding. It ended up being a spur of the moment decision when we had good weather on our second visit to Wanaka. Within a few hours of making the booking, I was preparing for a running take off from 800m up Treble Cone (a popular ski area in winter). I was strangely calm about the whole thing, probably because I have wanted to do it for so long and climbing seems to have made me immune to any fear of heights. When we were gliding around the view was unforgettable, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. We hovered near two enormous waterfalls and the landscape below looked like a beautiful painting- featuring snow capped mountains, a snaking river, a huge lake and a tiny, tiny wicked van. After some drifting, I was given the option of cruising down gently or spiralling quickly. My inner daredevil chose the latter, and I ended up losing my breakfast once we had landed. My vestibular system eventually forgave me and I watched Pete glide down to where I sat on the grass (he also chose the spirals, but clearly has a stronger stomach). Within a few hours I had decided that hang gliding is next on my list of aerial pursuits.
- I know it’s a big call to include a burger in my ‘Top 10 most spectacular’ list, but if you have been to Fergburger in Queenstown, you will understand. I was sent on a mission to seek out the Ferg by my housemate Steph, and it was well worth the hunt. If you dig coriander, yoghurt and tangy mango chutney, try the ‘Bombay Chicken’ like I did. Or go for the ‘Big Al’ if you don’t mind having your mobility restricted, like Pete did.
- We saw seals a few times on our trip, but our closest encounter was at Point Kean in Kaikora (a seaside town on the East Coast). Apparently they are sleek and elegant in the water, but they are so lovely and dopey on land. They made me think of a bear crossed with a fish, who scratches their head like a dog and curls up like a cat. Perfect.
- Dunedin was probably my favourite city that we visited on the trip, mostly because it was the least touristy and most artsy, and we got to take a squiz at the University of Otago. It was so beautiful, the buildings were very old with incredibly detailed architecture and the gardens were immaculate. As we wondered through the grounds in the pouring rain, I fantasised about going there to do a masters in…. anything…
- It’s hard to choose one spectacular scene or event from the 3-day hike that we did on the Greenstone & Caples Track (near the Routeburn Track). We passed though lush green forest, rocky creek beds, open grassland and soggy marshes, with too many waterfalls to remember and vibrant colours all around. We saw bright green and purple stones, fiery red and orange ‘leaf confetti’ on the forest floor, glowing blue rivers and every shade of green from the moss on the tree stumps to the tallest canopies. One of my favourite views was from a narrow wire bridge that was suspended above the tree tops, I could look straight down through it onto the giant ferns, trees and rushing river below.
- If there’s anything that gets me more excited than flowers, it’s birds. I’ve been told that New Zealand doesn’t have any native mammals (I haven’t checked this fact, but my sister told me, and she tends to know stuff) and so to compensate, they do birds particularly well. Of all the birds we saw, my favourite was the New Zealand falcon, which we often spotted when driving through the high country. We had a few good sightings when they swooped down to eye level, and on one occasion we had one gliding along just in front of our van for a few seconds. They were too elusive for a photo, but we were always watching for their brown and white feathers or a silhouette circling overhead.
- Our biggest indulgence on the trip was a night at a fancy resort, courtesy of dear old mum and dad. I’m well aware that this makes 2 out of 10 of my spectacular things food-related, but the pancake brekky we made in the apartment was pretty bloody spectacular and that’s all there is to it. Blackberry jam, maple syrup, ice cream, sugar and lemon…. yummm. The spa that I had that morning was also quite pleasant!
- Most of the Department of Conservation (DOC) campsites that we stayed at featured a short walk of some kind, but none were as impressive or enjoyable as the one at Canaan Downs campsite in the Golden Bay area. There were 3 incredible features on this walk and the first was Harwood’s Hole- New Zealands deepest vertical shaft. I had never seen anything like it, and was captivated as I lay on a rocky slab at it’s edge and stared into the infinite abyss. The next was Gorge Creek viewpoint, where we sat and absorbed the overwhelming view of the enormous valley stretching out before us. The clouds appeared to be rimmed in gold as the setting sun lit them from behind. The last stop on this short venture was a small pool of water alongside the track. The surface was incredibly still and provided perfect reflections of the trees and plants above. We experimented with the camera and got some weird and beautiful shots.
TOP 10: MOST FUN
- Birthday + blow up trampoline = good times.
- As if jumping around like an acrobat/lunatic on my birthday wasn’t enough, we also took a tour of Monteith’s brewery to celebrate my 23rd year (AND walked on the beach in Greymouth, went to an art gallery, a jade museum and an op shop, had cake at a café, walked at Lake Mahinapua and cooked Thai green curry… best birthday ever). Now I’m not usually much of a beer drinker, but the tour ended with a sampling of every beer they currently have on tap… I got through 7 of the 8 and was mighty proud of myself. Proud, and requiring a short nap on the grass in town. I didn’t know beer could be so distinctive and varied, from the rich Winter Ale to the zesty Raddler. Although not technically beer, my favourite would have to be the Crushed apple cider (this preference was reinforced when I had a pint of the stuff in Hanmer Springs, and decided to sing for the entire car trip to Christchurch. Sorry Pete.)
- One of the main reasons for heading to New Zealand was to sample our neighbours climbing areas. Our first day of climbing was spent in an area called Hospital Flat near Wanaka. This is where I learned to lead sport climbs, as I have only ever seconded Pete on trad gear at home. It was a pretty hot day but we crossed the road to another crag at lunchtime and stayed in the shade (whilst gratefully avoiding a group of boisterous youngsters). I was so relieved to finally be on some New Zealand rock that I felt compelled to declare my love of climbing to Pete, who replied, “I know, this is the first day that you haven’t complained”.
The next chance we had to ‘rock out’ was in Castle Hill for a tiny bit of climbing and a whole lot of bouldering. We met up with our buddies Kat, Chris and Kate, as well as a lovely Canadian called Linda that they had adopted on the plane. Usually I consider bouldering to be the cocky younger sibling of climbing, but in a setting as stunning as this I thoroughly enjoyed every minute. I can tell that I had a good balance of ‘victory is mine’ vs. ‘you’ve gotta be bloody kidding me’ moments, because I was motivated to keep trying all day and could hardly walk the next.
The last place we climbed was at Payne’s Ford near Takaka. This spot was unlike any crag I have ever seen before, because it was smack bang in a lush forest. I found most of the climbs pretty challenging that day but after some initial frustration I really enjoyed problem solving and pushing myself.
- Apart from getting thrown around a bit when my faithful steed ‘Knox’ got spooked on a bridge, I had a great time on our backcountry horseride. Pete is an old hand at horseriding and I am a relative newbie, but I think we both appreciated the beautifully rugged scenery of Cardrona and the varied hilly track.
- I was a little bit apprehensive about going sea kayaking as I have little experience in this area, and can’t really say that I enjoyed my ‘wet exit’ lesson back at uni before we left… However, after a thorough 2 hour tutorial at Abel Tasman Kayaks I was ready and raring to go. We were incredibly lucky with the weather, and blue skies greeted us as we paddled away from shore in Marahau. We headed to Adele Island and pulled up on the sandy beach for some packed lunch, then watched some seals chilling out on the North side of the island. Next we paddled over to Watering Cove (on the mainland) and had a dip in the beautiful clear water, and then hugged the coast all the way back down to where we started.
- After some initial lacklustre weather on the trip, I was so relieved when we had our first warm days. One of the best places we swam was in Lake Ianthe. Although the lake itself was lovely, it was really the mix of scotch/chocolate/sunshine and a middle aged couple playing ukuleles that did it for me.
- Although you’re probably aware that I love rocks (especially big tall ones) you might not know that my favourite colour is green and this means that searching for greenstones was a particularly thrilling past time. We found a great searching spot when we did a walk out to a seal colony from Gillespie’s Beach. The rocky shore seemed to be covered in them and we wandered along picking up any particularly pretty ones. I kept one as a souvenir- a bumpy little thing that has light and dark green patches with white quartz all mashed up together.
- One of the most relaxing days of the trip was the one we spent at Marfell’s Beach. We were camped about 2 metres from the sand and were woken up by a pair of orange seagull feet pattering around on the sunroof of the van. The sun was out and we had no real plans for the day so we dragged our folding chairs down to the beach and read for a few hours, enjoying the soundtrack of the waves and looking up occasionally to take in the view of the coastline. Who needs meditation? (Not me, but I do need to remember to put sunscreen on my knees.)
- I don’t think I need to accompany this picture with too many words… check out these little fellas that we played with in Nelson.
- Just when you thought we couldn’t have come across anything cuter than the ducks, meet the stray kitten we fell in love with in Tapawera.
Maybe refill that cup of tea….
TOP 10: NOT SO FUN
- Our first impression of ‘wicked vans’ was not very favourable, the lady behind reception was mega pissed off at us because we were apparently late (we were never told to get there by noon!). She huffed and rolled her eyes and clicked her tongue, whilst we bit ours and waited for her to hand the keys over. We were disappointed to discover that we weren’t allowed to choose the design on the van, and were given one with ‘POISON’ painted down one side and some creepy monster eyes on the other. I’ve been told that Poison are a bad glam metal band from the 80’s, but I am still too scared to listen to them and find out what I paraded around for a month. At least we liked the quote on the back: “POLITICIANS AND DIAPERS NEED CHANGING FOR THE SAME REASON”. Other people liked it too; we had teenagers beeping and yelling out their approval on the freeway, tour groups of old ladies giving us compliments, and even a photo request when we pulled over at a public toilet…
- Dear Hine-nui-te-po (Maori Goddess of death), please kill all of the sandflies. Amen.
- It seems that New Zealands definition of ‘light rain’ differs somewhat from Australia’s. We thought we could brave a few light showers on the first day of the hike, knowing that the other 2 days had perfect weather forecasted. It pelted down on us all day and I was pretty miserable in my soaked gear (it seems I didn’t learn my lesson in the Grampians – see previous blog post ‘A most gramptacular adventure’. Actually I take that back, I did learn my lesson but that doesn’t stop me from being too poor to afford good gear. I need dollars, not sense!). I was freezing so we made a last minute decision to stay in Upper Caples Hut and avoid the difficult Steele Creek section, but this meant that we didn’t get as far as we planned to on the first day. We needed to make up a lot of extra ground the following day, and spent a gruelling 10 hours on the track (including breaks). We were both pretty delirious by the time we set up camp that night, especially after concentrating so hard on the steep route down from McKellar Saddle to Lake McKellar. The track was fairly difficult to navigate, and footing wasn’t the best on the steep and slippery network of tree roots. The phrase, “some idiots do this for fun” kept coming to mind, something that was mentioned on my first overnight hikes in Canada. That’ll learn us for doing a ‘moderate 4-5 day hike’ in 3 days.
- One lane bridges. Everywhere.
- It goes without saying that Pete and I spent a hell of a lot of time together. It got to the stage where Pete had categorised the different ways in which I point at things, as well as the level of interest that was implied by each motion. In return (and by trade) I carefully analysed Pete’s speech patterns and reported on my observations, until he didn’t want to open his mouth anymore.
- One of the best things about finishing a hike is the first meal that you get to have back in civilisation. We stayed in Glenorchy the night we came off our hike, and chose the better looking of the two restaurants in town. The menu looked pretty upmarket, with prices to match. I chose the chicken breast (for close to $30), and shuddered as the waitress delivered my plate- it was a giant chicken nugget! Genuinely, the kind that comes in a box and someone called Shazza or Baz pulls out of the freezer for a TV dinner…
- We went to Puzzle world, and I realised that I hate puzzles. Pete, however, loves them- and can solve them retrospectively in his head whilst he is making a sandwich.
- We got a bit lost in Mt Aspiring National Park when we were headed for the trailhead of our hike. This wouldn’t have mattered so much if not for all the unnecessary fording we did, and the squabbles that came with judging each others fording style (I maintain that slow and steady wins the race!). Luckily Pete and his GPS saved the day.
- Capsicums were about $3 each. We realised this when we put 4 through the checkout. They must grow them in gold dust and water them with champagne over there.
- I’m probably biased from my experiences of some of the best hot springs in Australia as a kid, but I found Hanmer Thermal Pools pretty underwhelming. It was essentially a series of concrete spas, apparently heated from a natural source (?) with the odd rock/plant artfully arranged on the edges. There are little signs that inform you of the exact temperature in each pool, as well as a list of chemicals floating within (sulphur is good for me, right?). The place was full of little kids in suspicious nappy-shaped bathers and staff taking photos that they flog at the exit. One small child told me that I wasn’t allowed to read in the water and then fell off his rock, splashing me and the book in question (I love kids, just not in my bath).
TOP 10: FUNNIEST
- It was at this point that I realised we needed to find some other people to talk to-
Pete: “Hello bird! Check it out, it’s all orangey-yellow”.
Pete: “Oh. I was talking to the bird about the tent”.
- Every trip needs a little slapstick humour, so I graciously obliged during the hike. I was attempting to scale a ridge at the side of a dry riverbed when the dirt under my feet gave way… During my quick yet spectacular drop, my pack was thrust upwards and then into the back of my head, causing me to face plant into the soft wall of earth. I can assure you that it felt even more ridiculous than it would have looked.
- I was adamant during the whole trip that Pete and I didn’t share cutlery/bottles because I have a tendency to get tonsillitis. I wish I had a photo of Pete’s face when he was busily brushing his teeth and I joined him at the sink and held up… his toothbrush.
- It’s always useful to seek information from locals, and use informational displays when available. Take for example, the gravity meter at Hangdog campground (near Payne’s Ford, it’s a hub for hippy climbers and the office smells like weed…):
- We passed a sign coming into Lake Waihola, it said:
We passed another sign about 20 metres after the first, it said:
- Remember how I missed out on sampling one of the beers at Monteiths? I made it my mission to seek out ‘the Celtic’ so I could be satisfied that I’d tried the whole range. I achieved my goal in Queenstown, where we picked up some beer and went down to the waterfront to hang out on the grass. I attempted to impress Pete with the party trick of opening a beer bottle by twisting it into one’s forearm, and he watched me quizzically as I gritted my teeth in pain. After a few moments he asked, “…isn’t it a flip top?”.
We got another laugh out of it a few days later when I discovered the semi-circle bruise it had left on my arm.
- The first native bird that got our attention in New Zealand was the Kea. Not only was I fascinated by their magnificent colouring (especially the bright red visible when in flight), but also their personality- they are known to be incredibly cheeky and a little too brave. In Arthur’s Pass I saw one that had grabbed a plastic bag from inside a boat and the bag’s owner was attempting to wrestle it back from the bird in a crazy tug-of-war.
- Pete: “Maybe we should get up now”.
Kim: “Don’t rush me”.
Pete: “I’ve been not rushing you for 4 hours”.
- Pete and I developed a minimalist language for use in extreme circumstances such as the colossal 10 hour hiking day, it went a little something like this-
Kim: “light green”. (translation= “Hey Pete, if you look where I am looking you will see a parrot-like bird with magnificent light green plumage.”)
Pete: “mmm, yeh”. (translation= “Ah yes, I see the bird and it’s green colouring is most impressive. Good spotting. Also, that face plant you did before was awesome.”)
- We saw lots of sheep in New Zealand, but my favourite by far was the rare and intriguing Beach Sheep.
Eventually adventure month had to end, Pete had a conference in Malaysia to attend and I had a whole bunch of unemployment to get back to. I couldn’t have asked for more in an expedition, and have far too many amazing memories to list here. I hope you’ve enjoyed these snippets of our trip (and well done for getting all the way through them!). If you are considering an adventure, I highly recommend the South Island but try and go for as long as you can. We spent every night in a new spot and still didn’t get around to everywhere that we would have liked to. You wouldn’t believe what is just next door…
Until next time, ay.
Hei kona ra!