After a grueling three weeks of testing, writing papers and putting together presentations, I’ve finally reached the the promised land that is the two week mid-semester break. Similar to SDSU, at my university in New Zealand the due dates of exams and other large assignments are in quick succession of each other within a two to three week stretch. Consequently, the time before the beginning of the mid-semester break was stressful to say the least.
I chose this two-week break to travel around the South Island of New Zealand about a month and a half ago, so I’ve been patiently waiting and letting my excitement build as my date of departure approached. The South Island contains much of the spectacular nature and sight-seeing that New Zealand has to offer, but to effectively see this section of the country, I knew I would need more time than a short weekend trip.
Through some research and word of mouth, I determined that the best way to travel throughout the South Island was to fly to a city called Christchurch on the east coast and rent a car to drive to each of my desired destinations. So, I booked my plane ticket, car rental and various hostel stays in nine places throughout the island and prepared for my journey.
On the first day of the trip I left with a friend from Auckland and flew to Christchurch, arriving at the hostel at about 9:45 p.m. We decided to fly at this time because the price was cheaper to leave at night and come back to Auckland early in the morning at the end of the trip. We didn’t have much time in Christchurch, as we planned on leaving in the morning to head to the west coast, but we did do some exploring and walking throughout the city.
We knew that Christchurch had been recovering from rather devastating earthquakes in recent years, and this was clear to see even at night as many buildings and roads were in disarray and under construction. After walking around for about 30 minutes, we decided to pay a visit to the local casino to have eat some food, have some drinks, and of course do some gambling. I only played slots with about $4 NZ because I had never used a slot machine. Unsurprisingly, I did not win anything.
On day two we left the hostel early to go to the car rental agency and pick up our vehicle. Luckily, Uber operates in some New Zealand cities including Christchurch, so it was easy to get to the rental building. We arrived, filled out some paperwork, read the safety handbook and warnings and got our car.
In New Zealand, cars drive on the left side of the road, so getting used to driving on the opposite side of what I am used to was a bit strange. It helps to have two sets of eyes in the car to watch the road and make sure the driver is following the rules of the road. Getting out of the city, most of the roads are one lane in each direction, so it’s not too difficult to drive in these places. However, it’s hard to erase driving habits from back home, as I’ll find myself reach to the wrong shoulder for the seatbelt and the wrong side to shift the car’s transmission far too often.
Beginning our road trip, we drove to a town on the west coast called Hokitika through Arthur’s Pass National Park. I had heard that driving in the South Island is great because you can stop in many cool nature spots along the way, and I definitely found this to be true. We stopped at numerous places to take pictures and soak in the natural beauty of the area.
One such stop was to do a quick hike to the Devil’s Punchbowl Falls, where you can see a huge 112-meter waterfall. This was an easy hike and an amazing sight, probably the largest waterfall I’ve ever seen. We arrived in Hokitika in the late afternoon, watched the sunset at a popular view spot, ate dinner and retired to the hostel. This was Easter Sunday, so many shops and stores were closed; a bit disappointing for tourists but completely understandable.
On day three, we drove about 30 kilometers to a place called Hokitika Gorge. This is a river valley and suspension bridge that overlooks turquoise blue glacial runoff water. The gorge was a 15 minute walk from the car park (New Zealand’s way of saying parking lot), and it was a truly incredible sight. Like most of the pictures I have taken, those from Hokitika Gorge do not do the place justice.
After visiting the gorge, we continued our trip and arrived in Franz Josef Glacier Township in the afternoon. A small town with a gorgeous backdrop of huge mountains, we did a 1.5 hour hike to see the glacier. This was a nice hike through a valley with big mountains on either side and numerous waterfalls, culminating in the viewpoint of the glacier. Unfortunately the glacier has receded and melted a considerable amount in recent years, but it was still cool to see a glacier for the first time.
On the fourth day of our trip, we drove further south to a place called Wanaka. A quaint lakeside town with many stores, cafes, bars, and restaurants, this is one of my favorite places in New Zealand so far. It’s a very unique landscape with a narrow lake and many surrounding mountains, complete with the autumn foliage makes it as picturesque as any. We arrived in the early evening and were relatively tired so we ate a quick dinner and rested for the next day.
Day five consisted of a rather strenuous hike up a mountain to a place called Roy’s Peak. A six-hour round trip journey round, we made it to the top and we’re greeted with what was easily the most incredible view I’ve ever seen. Both pictures and my words can’t give the views from the peak anywhere near the credit they deserve; this is something you need to see with your own eyes to understand its greatness. My knees, feet and calves were incredibly sore after, but it was definitely worth it.
The trip has been awesome so far and I’ve seen some truly spectacular nature unique to this country. I can’t wait to see more of this beautiful country during the rest of the road trip!
Jack Barney is a junior studying business management. He is studying at Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand for Spring semester 2017.