Picton to the Glaciers

On the morning of Aug. 26, we took the ferry from Wellington across to Picton on the South Island. The ferry crossing was itself miserable. Even though the ferry itself was pretty comfortable, the seas were 3 meters in the Cook Strait. The ferry captain called the conditions "slightly boisterous" (the safety limit is apparently 4m), but the entire ferry would lurch up and down, and our windows were getting covered with spray 40 or 50 feet above the water. Needless to say, we were all feeling pretty ill. Fortunately, the attendants are used to it, and gave us several helpful suggestions to avoid throwing up. Our group of seven made it through okay, although it was touch-and-go there for a while. Fortunately, only about one hour was spent in the open sea; once we made it into the Marlborough Sounds, things got much smoother. One interesting thing we saw in the Sounds was the weather actually mixing with storm clouds and blue sky right next to each other.

We eventually made it to Picton, where we hopped on the Magic Bus again, but with a new driver, Kevin. We drove from Picton to Nelson, where we skydived. That evening, we stayed at Paradiso Backpackers, which was recommended by both our driver and Lonely Planet. They had a hot tub, cheap internet, nice rooms, lots of common areas, free soup at 6pm as well as free breakfast in the morning, and a cat. After our pleasant experience here and at the Wellington YHA (where Thomas the cat lived), we decided that cats were a good indicator for hostel quality.

Most of the next day (Aug. 27) was spent driving out to the West Coast, the scenery of which was the reason we came out to the South Island in the first place. As we left Nelson, our bus driver mentioned that that would be the last stoplight we would see until Dunedin (they use roundabouts), and since Sonia and I were stopping at Queenstown, it was the last stoplight we saw on the South Island. We eventually got to the coast, and took a nice walk along Cape Foulwind (named as such not because of the seal colony there, but because Captain Cook ran into a storm as he rounded this cape).

Cape Foulwind

It wouldn't be a trip to New Zealand without a picture of sheep.

Lazy seals, camouflaged by the rocks.
After the walk, we continued down the coast to Punakaiki. This are has interesting geological formations of stacked layers of rocks. The first British explorers thought they looked like pancakes; the Maori didn't have a word for pancakes, so they transliterated it as best as they could as Punakaiki.

That evening, we stopped in Greymouth, home of the "World Famous $3 Barbeque", all-you-can-eat sausages for NZ$3. Our bus driver made us do karaoke after dinner, threatening to not let us back on the bus in the morning if we didn't. It was pretty painful. Fortunately, we were staying in yet another cool hostel, Noah's Ark Backpackers, which features a different animal theme in each room. Sonia and I stayed in the giraffe room. Noah's Ark had a cat, too, continuing the theme of good hostels having cats.
In the morning (Aug. 28), it was off to Franz Josef Glacier. On the way, we saw the longest railway crossing in the world; the road and railway actually use the same one-lane bridge to cross a river for about 1 kilometer. Yes, you can see the train up ahead of the bus in the linked picture above.

A little later in the drive, we drove past Okarito, which I only know about because I once sang a song called Okarito, written by Jenny George, a New Zealander who was in the Stanford Chamber Chorale when I was. So that was kind of cool.

We made a couple stops in Hokatiku, which had a cool glass studio, as well as some jade-carving places, and in Ross, a lame gold-panning town. And then it was on to Franz Josef Glacier, where we did the glacier hike, which was very cool.

The next morning (Aug. 29), we stopped by Lake Matheson, the most-photographed lake in New Zealand. On our way out, we stopped to take some pictures of Fox Glacier, and I noticed the opportunity for an amusing photograph. With Sonia's help, we tried to get the alignment just right to make it look like I was eating Fox Glacier. It didn't quite work, but I had to show it anyway.

Back on the road away from the coast, we headed over the Haast pass and down into Makarora. Makarora was a tiny little town (population 40), where the Magic Bus stops in an effort to get people on the bus to socialize, I think, since there's nothing else to do in town besides jetboating. We hung out, watched movies, ate dinner together, played cards. Nothing too exciting.

Keepin' on truckin' on Aug. 30, we drove along the shores of Lake Wanaka. Slowed only briefly by a herd of cows, we arrived in Wanaka, a ski resort town, this being the end of winter in the Southern Hemisphere. Stopped there for lunch, dropping off some lucky backpackers who had time to stop and go skiing, we then continued on to Queenstown. On our way there, we stopped by the world's first commercial bungee-jump site located at the Kawarau bridge, and, well, I decided to partake.

Queenstown is another resort town. From here, you can do pretty much any sport your heart desires. On the main road in town is AJ Hackett's bungee jump center next to the whitewater rafting center next to the skydiving shop, etc. There's also skiing, jetboating, and a host of other stuff. Of course, if you actually do these things in Queenstown, you'll go broke; both of our Magic Bus drivers advised us to avoid doing activities in Queenstown because everything was more expensive there. One of them said that if you tried to do everything once, it would take five weeks and about $8,000. So, lots to do. What did we do? Grabbed some dinner, played some miniature golf, and watched a movie on the TV at the hostel. I was still buzzing from my bungee jump, so I just wanted to take it easy, and we were both pretty beat from spending eight straight days on the bus.

The next morning (Aug. 31), we flew back to Auckland, got squared away there, went out for a nice dinner on our last evening together, and then headed to bed early, because Sonia had a 6AM flight out to Sydney the next morning. I bummed around most of Sunday (Sept. 1), taking a ferry out to Rangitoto, a dormant volcano in Auckland's harbor. The hike up to the top took about an hour, through lava fields and jungle vegetation, but it was worth it for the amazing view of the Auckland bay. After the ferry ride back, it was off to the airport, done with my two weeks in New Zealand, having had a ton of fun, but wishing I had had more time...

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Eric Nehrlich's WWW home page / nehrlich@alum.mit.edu