New Zealand 2013: Week II
29 August—03 October, 2013
DAY 7 — 06 SEPT
Since our first week ended on a very low note, I probably won’t even have to say how glad we were to move on from Taupo. It was freezing outside, but we spent most of the day on another InterCity coach on our way to Wellington. The trip was long, but worth it.
Before our departure, however, Taupo treated us to our first sight of the volcanoes across the lake. Let’s be honest, it’s probably a great city if you’re there in the summer.
The coach stopped for lunch at a place that didn’t look like much, but that turned out to have…
BABY SHEEP!!! 😀 And also llamas. Such a great stop.
And off we were again! We stopped once more for a quick photo of the volcanoes, which was definitely worth it.
We got to Wellington in the evening and didn’t do much beyond finding some food and getting excited about having twin beds instead of a double. So much more space!
DAY 8 — 07 SEPT
Wellington time! We spent the day in the Windy City, hopping on and off buses and cable cars, and not actually thinking it was any windier there than anywhere else in this country. For some reason, I didn’t take many pictures. One picture I did take, but don’t seem to have uploaded, is one of a road bollard of some kind that had the outline of a Kiwi on top! Kiwis (the bird and the nationality) are the best! The weather was mostly nice that day, and when we took the cable car up to Kelburn, it was gorgeous. I’d had no idea that we would be passing the university on that cable car ride, and I will admit to being more than a little jealous. I want my commute to class to be like that!
In the evening, we found a little Italian restaurant not far from the hostel and had an excellent dinner, including two tiny bottles of Limonata.
DAY 9 — 08 SEPT
After eight days, it was time to leave the North Island behind for a while and see what the South Island had to offer. So we took the ferry across the Cook Strait. Sounds easy enough, right?
Nope. There had been a storm the night before, apparently bad enough to jumble the ferry schedule. Not only did was our ferry delayed three or so hours, but we also missed our coach when we eventually did get to Picton. The ferry ride was beautiful, though.
The coach we missed was supposed to be the last / only one to Nelson that day, so we were understandably upset. Cue me calling InterCity to find out how we’d get to our hostel in Nelson before the day was over. We were told there would be another coach, after all, though we weren’t told why. Not that we cared much, of course. We were just glad not to be stuck in Picton for the night, even if that meant having to wait four hours in the ferry terminal at Picton Harbour.
We found ourselves a place to sit and watched some Star Trek to pass the time. Eventually, the coach arrived and we were off. It turned out that the spare coach was for some kind of school trip or other, because by the time we hit Blenheim (yes, we went via Blenheim—don’t ask), the coach was packed with students. But we did have seats, and though I had to crane my neck, I even caught a glimpse of the Milky Way through the tinted coach windows, only my second glimpse ever. We did get to Nelson fairly late in the evening, only just in time to be let into the hostel and find something to eat.
DAY 10 — 09 SEPT
Day 10 easily marked the most beautiful day of the entire trip.
We spent it in Abel Tasman National Park, also known as paradise. The national park stretches along the coast, and a boat drops people off and picks them up again wherever they want a few times a day. Most people start at one of the drop-offs furthest to the west and then hike the entire way back to the starting point. We decided to be lazy instead and asked to be dropped off at a remote beach about halfway through the hiking trail. And we didn’t hike back, no, we just walked around some and were picked up again a few hours later from the same beach.
The beach had some sort of lagoon, which Olli found particularly exciting because the water was crystal clear. We stayed there for quite a while, having lunch and just enjoying the beautiful day. It was even warm enough to take off our coats, imagine that.
Both on the boat trip to the beach as well as walking around in the park, we saw an abundance of birds, as well as the occasional seal.
We discovered an empty hut not far from the first beach where people come to sleep in the summer months, so we sat down again at a table in its “backyard”. I wish I could tell you a cool story now, but we really just sat there and enjoyed the beautiful day—the sunshine, the landscape… Not so much the sand-flies, though, nasty little buggers that they are.
After another while, we walked some more and found a tiny waterfall that barely deserves the name, but that fed into a river that led straight out into the ocean.
We eventually returned to the little lagoon from the beginning of our “hike”, only to find it gone. The low tide had set in while we’d been walking about, and what had once been a turquoise lake was now little more than a puddle. But it was soon time to leave paradise, anyway.
DAY 11 — 10 SEPT
Day 11 was the exact opposite of the day before. The weather was just awful, and we were stuck in a coach for ten straight hours on our way down half of the western coast to Franz Josef.
The highlight of the drive was the stop at the infamous Pancake Rocks. Sadly, we were drenched within minutes, and we didn’t really have time to look at much anyway even if the sun had been out.
We made it to Franz Josef in one (albeit very wet) piece, and found our hostel more than comfortable. After some delicious Indian food, we settled into our room and didn’t think much more would happen beyond what had become our nightly ritual—one and a half episodes of TV before bed.
We were wrong.
The pouring rain had developed into a full-blown thunderstorm, and at some point during the night, our hostel was hit by lighting. The fire alarm was sent blaring, and we rushed to put on some warmer clothes over our pyjamas in case we’d have to go outside. Hostel staff was quick to let us know everything was fine, though, so we went back to sleep. But it wasn’t over yet.
DAY 12 — 11 SEPT
The plan was to spend another whole day on a coach and make our way down to Queenstown. The reality, well… looked far different. First thing in the morning, we learned that the lightning had fried all electronics in the hostel, including the payment system. Once that was sorted out, though, everything else was normal. The rain was still coming down, shifting between a little drizzle and heavy showers every half an hour. We hopped on the coach where we were greeted by Richard the driver with the information that the mountain pass we were meant to take was closed, but would probably reopen by the time we made it there.
So we set off in the general direction of Haast Pass, stopping somewhere on the way at a salmon farm. Richard spent most of the break on the phone, trying to find out more about the state of the pass. It now seemed to look worse than it had in the morning, because he told us he wasn’t sure at all if we’d be able to cross the mountains. He gave us a choice between going back to Franz Josef immediately, or driving on to Haast to see if maybe we’d be in luck. We collectively decided to push on.
Once we hit Haast, Richard was off again trying to find someone who knew more than we did—which wasn’t hard, seeing as we knew practically nothing. We weren’t the only ones stranded, though, and the diner we all ended up in probably didn’t see as many guests in a whole week as it did that afternoon. One by one, we all ordered something deep-fried for lunch, and soon, the air was so grease-filled that it was hard to breathe. We didn’t have anywhere else to go, though, so we waited.
After a three-hour wait, Richard finally knew what had happened, and that there was no way we were going to cross Haast Pass that day, or any other day in the near future. He’d found one of the engineers working on the site, and managed to wheedle the information out of him.
No one was going to be able to cross Haast Pass because it no longer existed.
80m of the road we were meant to travel had been washed away in a landslide. (Along with it, two Canadian tourists had been killed when their campervan crashed down the ravine, as we would later find out. We were definitely lucky.) Once we learned that, we all knew there would be no way to get from Franz Josef to Queenstown any time soon. Another three-hour drive later, Richard dropped us off at the hostel in Franz Josef, where we got the same room as the night before.
Just like everyone else, we started calling around, trying to see if we could cancel accommodation and getting seats on coaches going elsewhere. In the end, the plan was to take a coach back up the way we’d come, and switch to a non-InterCity bus in Greymouth to cross the Alps at Arthur’s Pass instead. We’d lose a whole day in Queenstown, along with a fair amount of money, but as long as we’d get out of Franz Josef somehow, we were okay with that. Not that we had much choice either way. Not in the best of moods, Olli decided to treat himself to a steak that evening, and that was the end of the second-worst day of the trip.
DAY 13 — 12 SEPT
In a very ironic twist of fate, the weather was gorgeous on the way up to Greymouth. We stopped for lunch at a place that had random animals running around again, among others a wallaby.
From Greymouth onwards, the landscape became more beautiful than it had been in a while. We were in the mountains.
The Christchurch YHAs were both fully booked, so we ended up in a run-down motel-turned-hostel, and it was horrible. Even the night we spent freezing in Taupo wasn’t as disgusting and this. I won’t go into detail; let’s just say, we had to share the bathroom with an unknown number of people (we only saw two of them, but I think there were more), and they were pigs.
That wasn’t our only problem, though. After yet another full-day drive, we were hungry. Now try finding a restaurant, or even a fast food place, in a city where the entire centre is in ruins.
Before coming to New Zealand, we’d always heard stories about how much the people in Christchurch had already rebuilt. When you’re there, though, and in the old city centre, no less, you get the real picture. Nothing was where it was supposed to be. I looked for places to eat that were nearby on my phone, and promptly got a bunch of suggestions. We set off towards a McBurger something or other because it was the closest place. Except it was a ruin. The same with the next few restaurants we found. We came across one single restaurant that was open, but that was so crowded there was no way we would’ve gotten a table any time soon.
In the end, after two hours of walking in the dark, we ended up back near the motel at a little Thai place that was really our very last option. I didn’t take any pictures that evening, mostly because I was so frustrated with the entire situation. The end of our second week in New Zealand wasn’t much better than that of the first.
I seem to have divided this up wrong, always ending a report on a negative note. Definitely need to do better next time. 😉
However, in the third week, we had another highlight of the trip, so stay tuned for part III!
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