Tour to the South Island

The morning would start early for Anja and me. We woke up before 5.30 am and happily left the house of our couchsurfing place. It was still dark, but after two buses we made it to the car park where the white van was waiting for us. There, we would meet Cara and Glen, our tour guides. Two great people putting together the whole thing.

And everything started, we all got in a van, a group of 10 people with different nationalities, most of us travelling solo and most of them with the intention of some work or a long stay in New Zealand. 3 guys: Victor from china, Arun from India and Emir from Indonesia and 7 girls including myself: Anja from Slovenia, Khristine from Germany, Eve from Malaysia, Isabelle from Belgium and Chelsea and Rubio from Canada. We couldn’t be more different. Anyways, we got into the business of introducing each other very quickly and filled the van in direction to Kaikoura. There, we could appreciate during the way the damage caused in the area by the earthquake and when we started getting closer, we started seeing dolphins jumping in the water. Amazing. After a while, we also saw seals and once in Kaikoura, we visited the seal colony and had a lovely walk.

After setting up our tents for the first time and being amazed by the fact I would not actually had to sleep on the ground, we got to walk a bit around the town and see more seals and more earthquake damage. There were still some places closed down with restricted access.

Setting up the tents and everything else would become a routine from now on. As for the rest, we continued bonding, although I started feeling the individualism in the group. In our first walk in Kaikoura one of the girls would go on her own and we actually had to leave here there because she was nowhere to be found. We picked her up in the van on our way back. And when we were going for a walk in the town after setting up the tents and just before dinner, people had a hard time to wait for each other a bit and look after another to stick a bit together. But we were all solo travellers and I would say that had a lot to do. After our small walk, which included the beach and more seals, we got back to have dinner. Our guide Cara was a chef previously and you could tell she would take care of us very well.

We had to make it to bed quit early, as the wi-fi was limited, there was not that much to do in the darkness and the cold and we would have to wake up early next day. Next day was a bit of a disaster. First of all, the German girl left the tour as she apparently had a horrible night. Poor thing. The rest of us didn’t really make it on time, and were on the road half an hour later, at 8.30 am. The showers were a bit far, you had to walk back to leave your stuff, pick up your stuff in the tent, pack, have breakfast but hot water was in the kitchen next to the toilets and showers… Everything took time and we were trying to get used to the dynamics. It got worse once we got on the road. Because it was full of road works and considering the roads in New Zealand are not great, it made us get to our destination really late. We ended up all day in the van and leaving the Pancake Road for the day after, early in the morning.

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Pancake rocks

To put the cherry on top of the cake, our guide leader Cara got pretty sick  that day and didn’t feel great at all. So Glenn, his helper, took us to the well-known Fox Glacier. I had been feeling quite excited about the glacier and couldn’t wait to get there, but when I did I can’t deny I felt a bit disappointed. We could get quite close to it, yes, but it was nothing impressive. I suppose you lose your capacity of getting impressed when you see a lot of cool stuff and you are waiting for something else to impress you. The way to the glacier was reminding me more to the landscapes in Ireland of that one time we were in an old glacier. And once we got half a kilometre away from the actual glacier neither its thickness nor it wideness impressed me. Still, it was cool and not even cold!

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On the way to the Glazier! We got as close as 500 metres from it.

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Thge colours, the transparency and the reflexions in the water were the norm everywhere

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The skies cleared up to show me the tip of Mount Cook, the highest mount in NZ

We had a good day, but people in the group starting saying if the Franz Josef glacier was better or had better views and the existence of this mirror lake and they wanted to do all. Considering we had a late arrival and we had been not very rushed when setting the tents and getting lunch, there was not much time until dinner time and it was impossible to do everything considering the driving times and the walks to do altogether. We agreed on going to the mirror lake to find out once we got there that the walk would take around 1.5 hours. That meant that there was not any time left to do the other glacier. There was the possibility of just going to the look out and get back, and people wanted to do that but I am of the opinion that you should do one thing and do it right, so I proposed that since we were already there, enjoy the lake and do not rush and go to everything without having the chance to actually enjoy being anywhere. And it seemed a good idea.

The rest was enjoyable and when we got back to the camp we just had dinner and enjoyed the Wi-Fi signal and some rest. The day after would come very quickly and we had to be punctual this time to make the best out of it!

Next day we would be getting to our destination to make our lunch there. The weather in Wanaka was brilliant and Roy’s peak was waiting for us to climb it. Surprisingly, people changed their minds when they saw the weather and decided that they wanted to get to the lake to swim instead of climbing the peak and do that in the darkness next morning to see the sunrise from it. This had been Emir’s idea from the beginning and while nobody seemed to be down for it the day before when he commented it, now it was everybody’s choice. I was settled about what to do, and thought of doing both but I didn’t know how my ankle was going to react before so much walking uphill and Emir was not going to be doing it alone anymore, which I didn’t want him to. So, I decided to go with the good weather and take the present moment, as I have learnt in my travels. Chelsea and I were the only ones to climb Roy’s peak in such wonderful weather. The result was fantastic, although I found the climb tough and after 3 hours of going uphill continuously and my ankle was quite sore for the last hour. The landscape up there was breath taking and the mountains took shapes and lines that were visually amazing. The way down was longer that what I thought and tedious for the knees and my ankle. I decided to go down half running half walking and on the way down I came across a couple of French guys that had found a hedgehog. I had the chance to take it in my hands and “pet” it. Not really because it was full of spikes, but it was so adorable!!!

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One of our multiples stops in the road. With these views in the road how can you not enjoy?!

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But on the way up Roy’s peak it gets even better

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At the top of Roy’s Peak. It doesn’t look like but I was exhauted, though I felt rewarded

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We also visited the Blue Pools

On my way back to the camp, I announced I would not come back to climb Roy’s peak the next morning and would sleep it off. Obvious choice apparently, because they already had guessed so. So, I asked to change tents because I didn’t want to be woken up at 4am with no necessity to do so. I asked Emir to sleep alone in his tent, but some other people was not so flexible about the idea of changing tent mates and at the end we just re-organised the whole thing and I ended up sleeping in Cara´s tent with Glenn because Cara was also waking up early to drive everyone else and Glenn didn’t want to be woken up either.

Once the arrangements were done, everyone else got to bed early while Glenn and me stayed up for longer as nothing else was to be done. He got drunk, we spent the night chatting and probably annoying everyone else with our talk, but that was fine. I enjoyed a beer and went to bed to wake up with the light of the sun in a cloudy sky and felt sorry for everyone else. But I was caught by surprise by the fact that actually nobody was left behind and everybody woke up and got in the van on time. I wasn’t expecting so due to the early time of starting and the extreme cold.

In exchange, I got to enjoy my breakfast without rushing up, something that hadn’t been happening lately and helped Cara and Glenn to dissemble the tents. I wanted to help them as much as I could because from the chat last night I could gather that they felt their efforts were not appreciated and they were a bit disheartened by it. They came up with the idea of setting 3 groups of the 3 people each to cook and clean up and that would also help to get people organised in helping them and getting things done.

Once everybody was back from the trek; we took direction to the famous Queenstown!

First, we visited Arrowtown, a Chinese old settlement that was very cute and had some interesing old houses where the Chinese that came to mine and look for gold settled their community.

At our arrival to Queenstown, we got pizzas, beers and got ready for a fun night out. And we did have fun. In the first bar, things were quieter and it was full of English for some reason. At the second bar, Emir was the star of the dancefloor and the bar was full of rugby players with their shirts and ties. Back to old memories that I love so much. I got to dance lots and lots and went to bed tired as ever, finally sleeping in a real bed in a hostel.

The next morning we had free time and I was debating myself between the expensive bungy jumping and the not so expensive one, but the weather was crap and I felt it wasn’t worth it to do it.  Instead, I wandered and visited an art gallery, the Canterbury shop to check rugby gear and walked along the gardens. In the afternoon, we were all gathering together to do a  bit of walking and check some national park where apparently some part of Lord of the Rings had been shot. We weren’t sure about what or where exactly. But there was no way not to enjoy the place, wherever you look this country is beautiful.

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Walking anywhere you could find yourself lookin at places like this one

We had planned more climbing for the next day: Ben Lomond was waiting for us. It was demanding and I felt I was always the last person, the one left behind and the most unfit of all. But not all was negative. I got to enjoy some time for myself and leave my mind wander a bit. I heard myself thinking for the first time in a while. And I listened to my heart. And my heart was telling me to keep going with my “no plans” and give it a go to my ideas. To try despite there were huge possibilities of failing, despite all the amount of effort it will take. To go with my guts.

And like that, I made it to the top, crossing clouds and feeling the chill of them. And the top was cloudy but in 15 minutes it cleared up and we enjoyed of amazing views and a nice photo shoot spot. The way down was easier, of course, but my legs were sore and I felt I didn’t want to walk in a long long time.

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Beautiful views between the clouds while coming up. I specially liked the red forest

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My favourite picture: balance with views!

Next morning was going to be a tough one: by 6am we had to be in the van, all ready to go because we would have a long drive until reaching Te Anau, where we would leave the trailer to continue until Milford Sound. We took a fantastic short cruise in Milford Sound, an old glacier now converted to a fiord. The landscape was amazing but I have to say I had higher expectations. However, I did enjoy it especially because the entire group started doodling around and making stupid posses and silly pictures. I had fun and on top of that, the cruise got to get under the waterfall and get us all a bit wet.

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These lakes in the road to Milford Sound are mirror lakes!

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Milford Sound. An old glazier that now is a Fiord

Back to Te Anau, my group was in charge of the cooking that night and we had hamburgers that we nailed. Happy days.

And after getting back to the tents and sleeping in the camping, we headed to Lake Tekapo next day. On the way, we got to see Mount Cook clearly and under a blue sky. And we were that lucky that the sky kept clear for us all day and all night, which meant a dip in the lake although the water was freezing and a swim for others with a taste for cold waters. By night time, we only could look in one direction: the sky. The stars above us, the Milky Way… the sky that had impressed me so much during my first days in adventures in New Zealand was above me again. We had a walk to some old church in the middle of nowhere to find out an insane amount of people gathered in the same spot for star gazing and taking the typical picture with the sky and the church. Very original… So we headed back because it actually didn’t feel that nice to be surrounded by a big crowd while trying to enjoy the stars. That would be the last night of our tour. A couple of days before there had been an aurora and we actually checked to see if there would be any chances that night, but it wasn’t the case. I like to think that it was already perfect as it was and it would have been too much to have that as well.

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Sunset at Lake Tekapo

The night was cold and as usual, and for the very last time, we would wake up in the darkness to dissemble the tents and get ready for the day. Our destination that day was Mount Cook, the highest mountain of the whole country. 3.5 km were conforming a magnificent mountain surrounded by more mountains covered in snow. The day was beautiful and even though the area was cold, it was perfect. Once we finished our trek at the feet of Mount Cook which got us to Hooker Valley and Hooker lake which was spotted with ice, we got back to the van and lost the first two people. Eve and Anja were left in the surroundings, as they were not coming back to Christchurch.

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Views of Mount Cook

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Hooker Lake, full of pieces of ice and Mount Cook at the background

The farewells made me realise that this adventure was about to be over and I would be on my own very quickly. I would have to be back to organise stuff, think about where to go, what to visit, where to sleep and being alone in general. It had been a nice break from all that stuff and I can say I very quickly got used to be carried and showed stuff in general without any thinking involved in it. We stopped for lunch at the Church of the Good Sheppard, back in Tekapo Lake and after having a pretty lame lunch with the leftovers, we quickly arrived to Christchurch to leave all the camping stuff at Cara’s house and head to the airport after. Arun, Victor and I were dropped there, as all three of us were heading to Auckland. And like that, all finished, back in a plane that would get me to Auckland, my last destination in New Zealand and where I had nothing planned at all and no idea of what would be expecting me. As usual. Back to the old times!

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