When my boyfriend and I decided to study abroad in Australia, we did it with every intention of eventually making our way to New Zealand. First we thought we’d try “woofing,” where you work on farms to earn your room and board in the farmers’ houses. But that seemed pretty ambitious, and we knew by the end of the semester we’d be eager to see our families. So we decided to take a one-week trip during our mid-semester break and cram as much sight-seeing in those 7 days as possible.
We left with one large, framed backpack each, an itinerary that had less specific details for every passing day, phone numbers and addresses of hostels, and mapquest directions for the days we rented a car. We landed in Christchurch, immediately picked up our rental car, “el cheapo,” and drove to Arthurs Pass.
After watching the sun set on the snow-capped mountains standing tall on either side of the winding road, we finally made it to our home for the first night in NZ: Mountain House Hostel. The reception office was closed, but a note hung on the door with the following directions: Laird Reservation- grab phone card hanging on the post to your left, go across the street to the pay phones, and use the card to dial the number ####. So we did, and on the other end of the freezing cold receiver came a very jolly voice telling us he’d let us inside the hostel in just a moment. No longer than a minute later, a bearded man with glasses and a winter hat came out of the bar right next to the pay phones. He seemed ecstatic to meet us, and after signing us in, giving us our keys and showing us to our room, the three of us went back across the street to have a drink together. We talked about everything from the Phillies, physics, and Bob’s two youngsters who he endearingly gushed about. Bob was definitely one of the coolest people I’d met in a long time.
The next day, Evan and I woke up early, got some breakfast at the store right next to the hostel, (Arthurs Pass is not made up of more than 10 buildings) and went for a short hike to see views of a waterfall. Despite it being much colder than we’d expected, the hike exceeded our expectations. It was also the first time we’d seen Arthurs Pass in the daylight, and we were not disappointed.
Refreshed from our hike and collection of new, stunning photographs, we packed up el cheapo and continued through the mountains until stopping at Greymouth. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to Greymouth without getting completely lost. The scary thing about getting lost in New Zealand is that, well, there’s nothing around. Cows and sheep were the only ones around to get directions from, and they were stubbornly silent. Anyway, by some stroke of luck, we finally made it to Greymouth. This was the first time we realized how deceiving our map was. In big, capital letters we saw the name “GREYMOUTH” almost as big as the letters for Christchurch, yet the town was tiny. We would come to realize later in the trip that the truly tiny towns were actually just one road with a bar and fire station on either side, but when we arrived in the dingy old town of Greymouth, we were a little less than thrilled.
But we hadn’t planned on staying long anyway, so after getting lunch and filling up our petrol tank, we headed to our second destination: Franz Josef Glacier. This time, we arrived at our hostel before night and in time to see the sun set on the town. We walked around, ate dinner, relaxed, and went on a very dark, spooky walk with two girls from our dorm to see glow worms, literally worms that glow in the dark. It ended up that the most exciting part of our walk was when a possum ran out onto the trail and scared us all half to death, but we had a good time chatting with our new friends from Philadelphia (!!) and Germany.