In my last post, I detailed the first half of my adventures during my two-week roadtrip around the South Island over Midsemester Break. To briefly recap, four fellow exchange students and I made a giant loop around the South Island, looking something like this:
Our adventure began with a 5-day hike through Abel Tasman National Park, followed by some hitchhiking, and overnight stays in West Coast cities Greymouth and Frank Josef. Next, we continued down the West Coast on our way around the island.
Wanaka (pronounced “WA-na-ka”) is a lovely small town fueled mainly by tourism. We spent about a day and half here, meandering past sites like New Zealand’s famous Pancake Rocks on our way into town and getting to spend some time exploring civilization after almost a week in pure nature once we actually got to Wanaka. After seemingly endless amounts of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and granola bars on the trail, the grocery store was a welcome sight.
The next day, we contributed our share to the tourism-driven economy by kayaking on Lake Wanaka (the man we rented kayaks from was so refreshingly trusting, and let us keep the kayaks for a bit longer while he went off on a jetboat tour), and then headed off for a day hike to Rob Roy’s Glacier, a lovely “tramp,” as the Kiwis would call it.
After our hike, Beccs, McKenzie, Andrew, Cari, and I headed to Wanaka’s livelier cousin, Queenstown. A few weeks ago, I spent a weekend here coordinated by my External Program Provider, Arcadia University, so this time around I was free to explore Queenstown even further. Our Queenstown hostel was “heaps” of fun, with lots of social bunkmates and a young, vibrant atmosphere, and will always have a special place in my heart as the place where I was introduced to Hundreds and Thousands Biscuits, the tastiest cookies in the world and my new guilty pleasure in NZ.
Yep, Paradise is a real place, and it’s in New Zealand (although sometimes I’m convinced it IS New Zealand). A beautiful valley outside of Queenstown, Paradise is known as a Lord of the Rings filming location and for its spectacular views of the Remarkables mountain range that encircles Queenstown and Wanaka. Our road to Paradise felt more like the road to a less desirable mythical place as we battled a flat tire, swarms of flies, and our minivan’s lack of a tire iron, but our picnic in the valley was worth the shlep!
On our way back to Queenstown for a night on the town, we also experienced a true New Zealand phenomenon — a sheep crossing, in which traffic stopped for a good ten minutes to allow a herd of sheep to pass.
After Queenstown, we headed to Milford Sound (which, as reiterated multiple times by our tour guide, is not actually a sound but a fjord, and is not really Milford Sound if it isn’t raining). There are a few ways to see Milford, and we opted for an early boat cruise (if you find yourself booking one of these cruises, the earliest times are the cheapest!).
Well-known as the home of the University of Otago and its famous couch-burnings, Dunedin is a college town at the bottom of the South Island’s East Coast. We crashed on a friend of mine’s couch (unburned) for a couple of days and got a chance to explore Dunedin itself and some cool day hikes (one of which involved wild seals!).
Otago has a much larger international student population than UC, and although I enjoyed my time in Dunedin, I missed UC and Christchurch, and for one of the first times they felt like home. A similar thing is happening to me with Philly — absence makes the heart grow fonder!
Our final stop before heading back to Christchurch was Tekapo, an area with the bluest lake I have ever laid eyes on and almost no light pollution that makes for incredible stargazing. Laying out in our sleeping bags under the stars was a perfect way to end the trip (and attempt to learn all the Southern Hemisphere constellations I never knew existed).
And so, after surviving the many mishaps of our trip and musing over life like the study abroad students we are, we headed back to home base. It felt great to really have a chance to get out into the natural beauty of NZ, and I have a further appreciation and comprehension of the lifestyle here after leaving my Christchurch/uni bubble. Also, driving through the single-lane, billboard-less highways of NZ, ignoring our GPS because there are approximately 3 roads, and taking in the untouched beauty around us was one of the most contemplative and serene experiences I’ve had here. This video does not do the varied landscape justice, but it’s a bit of a taste:
I think my Midsemester Break trip was just what I needed to make Christchurch and UC finally feel like home, and lately I’ve been in a very “I never want to leave NZ” mood. This trip was what most people see of New Zealand — rent a van for two weeks, roadtrip around, experience the landscape. I’m very happy I have the chance to explore New Zealand even deeper.