I spent my final three weeks (though I didn't know they were final at the time- helllooo last minute flight bookings) traipsing around the south island- armed with kilos of peanut butter, hiking boots, a rain jacket (oh west coast, your reputation precedes you) and my increasingly-beaten-up camera, I tore right down the west coast from Nelson and back up the east coast, stopping at some amazing campsites, some jaw-droppingly scenic vistas, and really, wherever the hell I felt like it.
The first hike I took on was on the recommendation of a wonderful friend from Australia, Rose- who, after I slogged and puffed my way up to the hut, I found out had done this particular hike 3 or 4 times. For fitness. Heading up to Mt Brown Hut, I was surrounded by cloud- quite a claustrophobic experience- as I followed the ridge line with almost zero visibility, I had a great time (read: scared myself silly) imagining what dramatic cliff drop could be merely metres either side of my narrow path. That night, the clouds lifted and I sleeping-bag-hopped my way out onto the deck to marvel at the stars and then the stunning sunrise.
Continuing down the west coast, I marvelled at the gnarly, gnarly surf- while Australia has its own justly deserved reputation for some crazy-big surf, New Zealand's west coast is just as chaotic- shore-dumping, log-wielding monsters crashed into rocky beaches, and I soon understood while I'd seen no surfers braving the wilds of the Tasman Sea. I breezed through the tourist mecca of Queenstown and straight out to the beginning of the Rees-Dart Track: a five-day hike recommended to me by an incredibly fit German who swayed me with promises of glaciers and relatively few fellow hikers. Sold! The hike was as body-breaking yet as beautiful as promised- I lucked out with fantastic weather and many of the huts to myself. The track is varied, studded with ready-made bouquets of brilliant yellow flowers and sweet alpine streams. Walking out to the Dart Glacier was a definite highlight, though it was more walking in to the glacier- so distracted by the other glaciers meandering down well above me, I wasn't paying too much attention to the apparently debris filled valley in front of my until a large chunk of ice crashed down metres in front of me as if to say, 'um, hello, that glacier you're looking for? That'd be me. Right here. Yup' Another highly-rated-by-the-German feature of this track was the recent appearance of a lake- caused by a landslip blocking the Dart River (which flows from the Dart Glacier that I played hide and seek with) a large part of the last day of the track is now underwater, drowned by eerie blue water and providing a muddy reminder that New Zealand is not the poised-on-the-centre-of-a-tectonic-plate-stable-as-stable country that Australia is.
My other top pick for getting amongst it alpine style is the Mt Cook Alpine National Park- with the crashing of glaciers providing a constant and somewhat disturbing soundtrack, and Mt Cook itself soaring over surrounding peaks, I relished every second camping in its shadow. I took a day to walk up to Mueller Hut, a striking rusty red against the brown rocks and blue blue sky. After a sun-drenched lunch on the deck, I scrambled (literally) up to the summit of Mt Ollivier, which was Edmund Hillary's first major climb- so watch out Everest, I'm on your trail.
While I more or less stayed well-clear of cities (which, given my lack of showers and laundry, I'm sure the general populace was pretty glad about) I did dip briefly into Christchurch- interested to see how the city was faring for myself. There are some awesome initiatives popping up- relishing the opportunity to pretty much remake the cbd from scratch. I wandered into a fruit shop where instead of paying with money, you pay with time- I waited two minutes for a locally-grown apple (it was based on food miles- the longer the food had travelled, the longer you had to wait), rued not having an iPhone so I could activate the outdoor dance stage where you plug in, put your music on and lo and behold lights are a flashin' and you got yourself a street disco, and loved happening upon awesome street art around every corner. That being said, the roads are still mostly closed, and for a Saturday morning all was strangely still and sans-people.
Happily close to Christchurch is Castle Hill- perhaps the best bouldering in New Zealand. Despite lacking crash mats or a mate to spot me, I still had fun clambouring around and onto boulders, basking in the sun and watching paragliders soar far above me.
Dear friends, I shall leave you here (pretty sure they should put maximum length restrictions on these blogs, or at least on mine) and shall hope to see many of you in person soon!