Tag Archives: south island

Most of All

So far the South Island has been good to us. While the West Coast is famous for its rain, we were treated to perfectly sunny, crisp autumn days. In our three days exploring the area around Karamea, I saw more primary growth rainforest than anywhere else in the country so far. I loved being afforded a glimpse of what the entire country used to look like, and I was just about ready to pick one of the gnarled, mossy trees, build myself a little treehouse, and stay forever.

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My favorite kind of hiking

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This was a nice place to wake up

Aside from the giant granddaddy trees in Karamea, I loved the quirky town of just over 500 people, and how easy it was to find areas to freedom camp. Since it’s a little off the well-tread tourist path, most of the time we had the trails leading to limestone caves and arches all to ourselves. Because nothing can be perfect, the sand flies were next level. If I left the van door open for 30 seconds, I’d spend the next 30 minutes murdering a swarm of them, and the rest of the night itching. 

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Spelunking

 

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Little fantail! They follow us whenever we’re on a hike, I loved this guy’s eyebrows

From Karamea we continued south to Punakaiki. The area’s famous Pancake Rocks were just okay, but the climbing offered some killer views, plus a whole easy wall for me to remember how to lead. One of our nights there we reunited with friends from Christchurch for a beach bonfire. After so much time with just Gary, having other people to talk to was both weird and wonderful. The stars here have consistently amazed me, and that night was particularly breathtaking, without a cloud in sight.

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Pictures couldn’t capture the scale of this place

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Beam me up!

After two days climbing around Punakaiki, my forearms were so sore I couldn’t even unscrew the lid on my water bottle without whimpering in pain. That night we camped in the tiny goldrush town of Ross, seemingly unchanged since its heyday. I soothed my sorrows with a couple pints at the only bar in town, before joining some of the locals for a Sunday roast. I’m a big fan, turns out I’m actually a meat and potatoes kind of gal.

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Tree worship

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Pancake Rocks

On the food front otherwise, my love for flat whites is only growing stronger. I still haven’t found a soft spot for the ubiquitous meat pies, which is a shame because they’re probably the most economical meal we could buy. The highlight out here for me has been the sweets- I continue eating pavlovas every chance I get, each one somehow better than the last. A friend introduced me to ginger crunches, and now I can’t stop myself from buying one every time we pass a bakery. Gary has cut me off from buying anymore chocolatey delicious TimTams cookies at the grocery store, but even he can’t resist nabbing a bar of Whittaker’s, truly the best chocolate either one of us has ever eaten. 

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The Welcome Flat Track

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This water was so cold!

As we left the coast and cut inland, the streams began to turn a distinct, milky-blue from glacial runoff, and we began to see flashes of distant snow-capped peaks through the forest. Eventually we rounded a bend to find an impressive view of Mt. Tasman and Mt. Cook. Unfortunately most of the roads around the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers had been washed away by recent rains, so we weren’t able to get up close and personal with the glaciers, but I still enjoyed them from a distance. 

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Gary crossing the first one person at a time swing bridge

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Just when I was feeling cranky about all the uphill, the forest opened up to this view, yowza

We spent our final night in the area out at the Welcome Flat Hut. The first half of the hike meanders along a wide expanse of river, and across several intimidating one person only suspension bridges. I got a little too confident with how quickly the first part of the hike went, wondering aloud why people had told us it was challenging, and had to eat my words as we slogged uphill for the last two hours, fueled by squares of Whittaker’s for morale. Luckily the hut’s main draw is some natural hot pools for resting your weary bones at the end of the 11 mile day. After an early dinner, we spent the evening soaking while watching the stars come out, totally relaxed. The next morning I almost ignored my alarm, but it was worth an early wake up to have the pools all to ourselves, watching as the first light slid like honey down the mountain tops. 

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So glad I have my own personal photographer

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Made it to the hut! This picture was taken from a little bridge just a couple minutes away

From here we veer east up into the mountains for more of the same. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the weather gods keep being kind!

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Sunrise bliss

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A Trick of the Light

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First night in our new home! Can you see her?

After getting everything squared away, we had two weeks to be tourists before work started. For Gary’s 30th I bought tickets to a mini festival in Christchurch where we partied with all ages, from little babies with noise blocking headphones to scantily clad octogenarians. I didn’t know the headliner but still danced like a maniac for two hours, the eight piece ensemble put on an amazing show. 

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Castle Hill!

I “felt a bit dusty” the next day, my new favorite kiwi phrase, but after spending a day in repose nursing a hangover we managed to get out to Castle Hill for a weekend. Leaving Christchurch we wound through the middle of mossy green mountains, their tops obscured by cottony grey clouds. I half expected to see a dragon flapping overhead, or round a bend to find a knight galloping down a hillside. Eventually the mountains opened to a tranquil valley, criss-crossed by streams and dotted with wildflowers, hulking grey boulders scattered across the hillsides. The climbing was not my favorite (too hard!) but the location really couldn’t be beat. For the first time since our arrival the sun finally came out, and while Gary tired himself out, I dozed on the grass surrounded by perfectly sweet little white daisies and soft pink clover.

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I had the sweatiest palms watching Gary climb this beast

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Views for days over Akaroa

After our trial weekend living in the van we set out to work our way north. The challenges of van life became evident pretty quickly, these next five months are sure to be full of high highs and low lows. Our first day driving back the scenic way from Akaroa after swimming with Hector’s dolphins (the smallest and rarest in the world, endemic to New Zealand) we got a flat tire. To access the spare we had to take apart our entire setup, and this process slowed us down so much that we opted to stay an additional night at a different friend’s place to reconnoiter. As frustrated as we felt, that extra night wound up being really wonderful. We were spoiled and treated like family, fed freshly caught smoked fish and venison (I was told you could taste how happy the meat was, and Bambi really was delicious), presented with a fancy cheese plate, and I had my first ever pavlova, which was basically like eating a cloud. 

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Boy it was fun getting all this organized and then taking it all out again! It’s also neat seeing all your worldly possessions in a pile on the sidewalk.

On our second official attempt to leave we spent the night on the coast in Kaikoura. After a sunset dinner we sat on our roof watching thunderheads pass across the full moon, enjoying the warm breeze off the water. When we got back in the car to sleep for the night, we found it brimming with mosquitos, hovering hungrily overhead around our twinkle lights. After committing mosquito genocide we calmed down with the help of the waves singing us to sleep, and waking  up maybe twenty steps from the ocean was wonderful, but then gale force winds made cooking breakfast miserable. Later while driving up towards the Tasman our aircondition-less vehicle became a sauna, eventually causing us to resort to stripping down to our underwear. Finally we gave up trying to drive through the heat and stopped to stand in a wide, meandering river, staining our lips red with freshly picked cherries and skipping stones in the shade. 

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So many rivers in one little country

I feel like we are really getting a full experience, seeing plenty of sweet and just as much sour. I will say that on our drive north we were able to start to appreciate the country, it feels somehow like the  Pacific Northwest and Hawaii had a love child. The water is a shocking electric blue that butts up against lush volcanic mountains. The roads are lined by towering ferns that run along black beaches, the sand like millions of tiny chia seeds. But then you’ll round a corner and be in a pine forest, alive with humming insects, encircled by wide, lazy rivers. And in between all that, tons of agriculture (sheep outnumber people!). Lucky for us right now pastures are filled with baby animals, horses and cows and sheep, sometimes even deer. It is a magical and slightly disorienting combination. 

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Gary at the mouth of Rawhiti Cave

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Morning stretches at Dancing Sand Spring

In an effort to skip the tourist mayhem of Abel Tasman National Park we instead spent five days rock climbing nearby. The crags were some of the most scenic I’ve been to, after belaying between ferns at Payne’s Ford or alongside dramatic ocean cliffs at Pohara, there were plenty of refreshing clear swimming holes to cool off in at the end of the day. On our rest day we did a short but challenging hike to Rawhiti Cave. Pronounced raw-feety (wh’s sounds like f’s here, just for an added challenge), it was full of phytokarsts, basically stalactites covered in lichen that actually causes the rock to grow towards the sun. Nature is so neat! We also visited the crystal clear Dancing Sand Springs (aka Pupu Springs, heehee), so sacred to the Maori that you’re asked not to even touch the water. Finally, we drove out to Cape Farewell, the northernmost point on South Island, and after watching the sea lions surfing the waves spent the day getting blown around on the sand dunes of Whariki Beach. 

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Cape Farewell

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Whariki Beach

Some of our nights have been spent in meadows surrounded by the sounds of chirping birds or on beaches where we enjoyed the fresh sea breeze and starry nights, but an equal number have been spent in super glamorous stripmall parking lots or in the alley alongside a bar. You haven’t lived until you’ve shaved your legs in public, or used a converted port-a-potty cold shower (which I actually loved), or tried to fall asleep while listening to people drunkenly warble “The Girl From Ipanema” on karaoke night. 

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Pictures just don’t do this ferry ride justice

Right now I’m writing from a laundromat in windy Wellington while Gary buys groceries at the cheap shop on the other side of town, this is practically the first time in 2.5 weeks here that we’ve been farther than an arms reach from one another. Taking the Interisland Ferry across the channel this morning was basically a religious experience, the sun rising to greet a clear, cloudless summer day, our boat nestled between emerald mountains as we glided serenely across placid turquoise waters, gently scattering the occasional group of sea birds nestled together on the water. Today will definitely be chalked up in the ‘sweet’ category, and I’m looking forward to exploring a little of the North Island in our final five days before work begins. 

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Unshaken

Kia Ora from New Zealand, land of the long white cloud! The 13 hour flight from Los Angeles to Auckland was actually not so bad, and as an added bonus, neither was the jet lag. Time wise California is technically only three hours ahead… except it’s yesterday… which means I’m living in the future? 

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The first picture I took in N. Zed. Also the first of many sheep that I have seen.

Before we left I was in my normal pre-departure state of shambles, except this time I had basically planned nothing, and my inner control freak was extremely stressed out. It turns out I didn’t need to worry, as everything every step of the way has been incredibly easy. Gary’s friends graciously picked us up from the airport in Christchurch, and in that first week staying with them we managed to set up a bank account, get our tax numbers required for work, set up our phones, and buy a van to live in. We also were basically handed a job for six weeks with the Department of Conservation helping to research Kauri dieback in the Coromandel. See? Almost too easy. 

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Home for the next five months! #minivanlife, amirite?!

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The inside

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… and our little outdoor kitchen!

While sorting our lives we were able to see a lot of cute little Christchurch, even with the cold, rainy, “summer” weather. I was surprised to see how much evidence there still was of the 2011 earthquake, tons of construction and crumbling buildings. Another surprise was how many people I saw walking around without shoes throughout the city in practically every setting. We also kept musing about how little traffic there was, until we realized that the entirety of the country is the same size as California, except with the same population size as Los Angeles spread throughout. No wonder everything feels so easy!

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Godley Head, nice little getaway just outside Christchurch

Food has been pretty whatever. Shopping for ourselves has been great, because of the season there is lots of delicious stone fruit, and the best arugula I’ve ever tasted. Every grocery store carries this kumara (sweet potato) and coconut hummus that I can’t stop smearing on everything I eat, although it’s especially delicious on Peckish brand rice crackers. Eating out, however, has yet to wow me. On one menu I saw a cheese and pineapple sandwich, and on another a Brie, cranberry and chicken pizza, highly irregular. While working through a mediocre plate of fish n chips I decided to wash it down with an LnP (“World famous in New Zealand!”) and now they’re all I want to drink, zesty lemony bubbly perfection. 

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“Put a bird on it!” I think having birds on your money makes buying things more fun

Of course, I am loving the coffee culture. I discovered flat whites at the many kiwi-run cafes when I was living in NYC, but it has been a treat to get my daily dose straight from the source. Plus, nearly every grocery store has a little cafe, as does practically every block, so basically life has been a highly-caffeinated dream. My only complaint is how tiny portion sizes seem, a large drink here is an American small. We’re not one of the most obese nations on the planet for nothin’, rah rah, pew pew, freedom, ‘merica!

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Experimenting with portrait mode

Speaking kiwi has been a bit of an adjustment- people are so smiley and really helpful, but, they also talk fast and every vowel seems wrong. Dad becomes Ded, pen is now pin, it’s dick instead of deck, and on and on. Other things? Bodegas are called dairies. Sandals are jandals. Hiking is tramping. A lot is heaps. Z is zed. People actually say crickey. And I hear “sweet as” constantly, although I’ve also heard “shit as” and even “kiwi as.” I don’t love it, mostly because I keep thinking “as WHAT?”, but I’m learning to be tolerant.

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Bye now!

To conclude, remembering to walk on the left is a challenge, and I keep bumping into people. This does not bode well for driving… and I will report back once I finally work up the courage to give it a try. 

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