After spending a final supper -taco’s-cheese-spicy sauce and beans- with my beloved Mexicans friends I was finally ready for the South Island of New Zealand. My job as a waiter (YES boss I asked if they want more wine at that table, and no, they did not change their mind after disturbing them for the 65th time) and the city of Auckland were wearing me out big time. Flying to the South was a well-deserved change of both scenery and excitement-level.
A sleepless night later (yep, the cheapest flights always fly off at the worst time possible) I arrived in Christchurch, the most English of all towns in New Zealand. With a small delay I met up with the ruling world champion in the noble discipline of “missing flights” Kerry :-). We spent a relaxing and sun-soaked weekend in the city and decided to rent a car to head in the direction of the Frans Jozef and Fox glaciers.
We hiked up towards a good viewpoint on Frans Jozef, only to discover a fog-covered version of the great chunk of ice. Not really as rewarding as expected, but still a nice walk.
Next day at Fox glacier more or less the same story in what can be categorized as the worst hike ever performed in the history of tramping. As Kerry’s muscles were aching severely I headed out alone launching myself up the Mt. Fox route. I quickly glanced at the warning sign explaining the walk is steep, for experienced hikers only and that bad weather conditions can occur every time of year. I grinned, cursed the weather gods and took off for the 8-hr return walk. 4 hours later, I got back down. It rained all the time. I lost my belt buckle and pants several times. I slipped and hurt my shoulder, back, knee and well… buttocks. After tearing my favorite pair of trousers apart while slipping for what must have been the 148th time, I decided to head back down. I cursed the weather gods one more time, and got immediate punishment as I continued the walk down in my boxers.
I got back home, very very irritated. But after seeing the smile on Kerry’s face, I warmed up again. 5 beers later, I forgot about the misery, pain and cold.
Next day a long drive and more of the one thing I cannot get used to while traveling: saying goodbye. Sometimes you just have to keep going and carry on, and that’s exactly what I did.
So there I was, on my own again driving the rental car on the left side of the road towards Christchurch. I did not have a driving license on me as it was stolen in Bolivia. And as I was cruising -forgetting to watch the odometer from time to time- there he was again. Mr. Murphy and his miserable law. A police car passed me, turned on its flashing lights before making a U-turn. With a severe panicky feeling hitting my stomach, bowels and other parts of my body I pulled over and waited for the judgment. As far as I can recall the scene, it went like this:
– What’s the rush for young man?
– I am sorry sir, I was not really paying attention on this flat bit of road
– Drivers license please!
– Well, I’m afraid I only have a copy on me, a second, I’ll go and grab it sir
At this point, I expected the friendly police officer to get out his handcuffs and cudgel, reading me my rights while searching my pockets and car for drugs, weapons and illegal immigrants. But after presenting the crappy copy of my license :
– Is that you??
– Yes, that’s me sir
– Okay, looks like you’re going to have to pay some money to the black hole called New Zealand government. (grins)
Saying that I was excited to only have to pay the fine would be an overstatement, but still. I got back on the road without being extradited or executed at the spot and drove the car safely (and slowly) back to Christchurch.
A couple days later I decided to get back on the road for the second leg of my South Island trip. I bought a roadmap and went out to rent the same car again. The plan: a road trip along the most interesting and beautiful spots in the South Island only camping out mainly surviving on basic food. For the itinerary of the little trip, click here.
Scary sea lions, stinky seals and prudent penguins
I stopped by in Oamaru, a town completely built around the two penguin colonies that can be spotted near the waterfront. There are two types of the fascinating little creatures: the blue-eyed and yellow-eyed. The latter is very rare and can only be observed in New Zealand.
I arrived at Bushy beach where the yellow-eyed penguin colony comes back from the ocean to retreat in the bushes ashore. It was freeeezing cold and the only thing these shy and selfish penguins do is testing your patience. Or it must have been the Dutch woman producing 120 decibel with her slightly annoying comments on how she once saw some Penguins in a zoo. Two hours later, I finally spotted a waddling penguin on the beautiful strip of beach. As I forgot my glasses in the car, it might have well been a pink panther.
Looking at the blue eyed penguins requires buying a ticket at the visitor center. One is not allowed to take pictures, as apparently the birds are pretty keen on having a bit of privacy. Or it could also be the flash and the effect on the penguin’s sensitive eyes. Anyways, the blue eyed ones are way more “observable” than their yellow eyed colleagues and got ashore in huge amounts. I wrapped my camera in a scarf and tried to get a few shots. But unfortunately the two grumpy Germans (is that a tautology?) sitting next to me were not appreciating my efforts. One of them eventually threatened to notify the guide, so I put my camera away again.
Luckily more penguins to spot in my later expeditions towards the Otago peninsula.
Another creature I had only seen on pictures before travelling to New Zealand is the fur seal. You’d expect a furry and sweet little fellow as the image stored in my brain was mainly based on Seabert (the nostalgia!!) an animation series I used to watch as a kid. In reality they are a somehow aggressive and have a smell that would give my hiking boots a quite enjoyable bouquet.
And it gets better! As I was continuing my journey alongside the east coast I encountered several sea lions. They are bigger, smellier and more combative than the seals. I was chased by one of them, and even though they are dopey and heavy I actually had to run to avoid being eaten alive.
The steepest street in the world and other claims to fame
New Zealanders have a couple of (questionable) claims to fame.
Some of you might know that my abilities to orientate myself are poor. Very poor. I took a quick glance at the map and drove towards the steepest street in the world. After driving around for 15 minutes, still no sign of that damn avenue. I noticed people staring at me as I parked on top of a dead-end alley (did I hit something? Am I not wearing clothes maybe? Am I driving on the wrong side of the road again?), got out of the car, and asked directions only to discover that I had accidentally driven up Baldwin street. The driveway to my parents’ castle is way steeper, as are most drives in San Francisco. The advise the friendly lady in the visitor center had given me seemed somehow ridiculous at this point (don’t drive up there, you’ll break your car. Unless you have a powerful 4WD).
– the second most photographed building in the southern hemisphere, the Dunedin Railway Station
The garden house behind my parent’s castle is nearly as pretty, but nobody ever comes and takes pictures. The building is actually the most “unphotographable” building in the world. Seriously. You need a wide angle lens to frame the whole thing. In an attempt to transform the construction into the “most photographed unphotographable building in the world” I did my very best to get some good shots.
And finally, there’s one thing New Zealanders could easily claim to have:
Sandflies. What is the purpose of these little horrible flies on planet earth? Where can they be found in the food chain? Which disgusting animal is actually interested in eating them? Just a few questions popping up when thinking about my 300 000 bites resulting in itchy and sleepless nights. In the whole of Fiordland, you just cannot stay outside for longer than 3 seconds without being surrounded by a couple of dozen of these little innocent-looking but extremely persisting bastards. Hooray for mosquitoes!
Lunatic landscapes, silky sunsets and sublime scenery
It is undeniably true that the scenery is absolutely stunning in New Zealand. You can randomly take a shot with the crappiest camera and still you’d end up with a marvelous picture. Driving in New Zealand is not only big fun (cutting curves Toyota Corolla style!!) but pretty much feels like cruising in a postcard the whole time.
As I was sleeping in a tent, every morning I’d be awake at 4 am, freezing cold and covered with bites. Only thinkable advantage of waking up that ridiculously early are the various sunrises I was able to capture.
I opted for the Kepler track, down in sandfly-infected Fiordland. The trek covers more or less 60 km and is a good alternative for more popular (read: way more expensive) tramps. After meeting up with Canadian Kelly, we decided to do the hike in 2 days. Along the road we met two other Canadians, and pretty soon we were “oot and aboot”.
It was a very nice walk, but being spoiled by the amazing vista’s in South America my enthusiasm was a bit more tempered compared to the excitement of my fellow hikers.
When it comes to living on a budget, I am a bit of a disaster. I would save 10 cents comparing 5 different types of oatmeal in a supermarket but end up spending 25 dollars on wine later that day. But I did well, so I decided to go for something that has been on my “things-I-have-to-do-at-least-once-in-a-lifetime-list” for a long time. I drove up towards Wanaka and went for a skydive (for correct NZ pronunciation, see title). I won’t overload readers with a full description on how awesome the experience was. Only thing I would love to mention is that the first 5 seconds are amazing, as you feel your body accelerating up to 200 km/h jumping out of a tiny airplane at an altitude of 12000 feet (3,7km).
Just look at my excitement in the small video fragment here. And yes, in a way it is better than… (you know what I mean. Yep, a bungee jump of course).
Back to the future revisited
I am all set for what will be the third and last part of my little trip. One week of Melbourne followed by two final months of travelling in SE-Asia.
End of February I will be back home, bankrupt but a man rich with experience and happy. Allthough I might have to revise the concept “home” a little bit.
All the best to everyone that actually takes time to read through all this nonsense. If you did get to this very last paragraph, you are awesome.