During our trip, I came up with the idea of doing at least one “levitation pose” photo every day. Here are the results.
BANKS PENINSULA IS A VOLCANIC PIECE OF LAND PROTRUDING OUT FROM CANTERBURY. The land is very rugged, has many rivers and valleys, and is home to early Maori settlers. After yesterday’s moody experience, I started our last day with a very positive spirit. The town of Akaroa is cute historical settlement. We drove around and ogled at its fascinating museums, French-themed buildings and the Onaku Maroe church.
The quiet port at Akaroa
The colorful Onaku Maroe church
DRIVING AROUND BANKS PENINSULA, WE FOUND OURSELVES SEVERAL PHOTOGENIC SPOTS. We discovered a secluded beach near Le Bons Bay, and another one with amazing sand at Okains Bay. The view of Lyttleton from uphill is also very charming.
“What a way to end our trip?” I told Eric, “We had many great moments today.” Reflecting at our travels thus far, we came to a conclusion. Everyday’s a brand new journey, we may never know what lies in front of us. To be able to regard every thing with curiosity and appreciation, is the best way to cherish life. There were many life lessons that came through this trip. I have witnessed some exceptionally beauty in this blessed country. To sum up, I would say that I am very satisfied. It’s OK, let’s go home.
NZ is truly a photographer’s paradise
Finishing off all our remaining food at a campsite
Amazing! Lost for words.
Lyttleton from afar
Goodbye New Zealand.
Levitation of the day: Okains Bay
AFTER ENDING THE PREVIOUS DAY ON A HIGH, TODAY BROUGHT US TO A DEEP END OF FRUSTRATION. As we prepared to traverse over Arthur’s Pass back to Christchurch, we were greeted by wet weather, further dampening our spirits. Arthur’s Pass and its surroundings were expected to be on huge uniquely beautiful alpine landscape. However, when it rains, the Southern Alps look depressed.
One nice change to our melancholy came as two enthusiastic Malaysians. Tan and Fang, a lovely couple currently backpacking and working through NZ. These two were determined to hitchhike all the way through West Coast, which is a very commendable act (especially under this weather). Maybe someday, when it feels right, I should try hitchhiking too…
A lone Weka bird along the highway
The highway was still scenic with poor weather
THE DRIVE WAS UNEVENTFUL, TO SAY THE LEAST. And we arrived Akaroa in just in time to visit one attraction before heading to dinner. Shamara Alpacas advertised that they offer visits to their alpaca farm, complete with a guided tour. However, when we arrived, we were told that the farm was closed due to the storm. How depressing is that? We came all the way and only got short glimpses of their furry eyes through the gates.
Meanwhile, back in Akaroa, we dumped our bags in the hostel, only to find that our room was way too crowded and damp for our comfort. Eric and I decided to stay at the lounge through the evening, making plans for our next and very last day in NZ. There was no beautiful night skies tonight, no more relaxing conversation with beers in our hands.
Just when I was preparing to crawl back to my woeful dreary mood, Eric said, with a sense of enlightenment, something I’ll never forget. He said, “To see things as they are, not as we think they should be,”. How true is that? While enjoying the past few days of travel bliss, I forgot how to accept the lows of travel. Travel, just like life in general, would never go as scheduled. That is what makes it so interesting.
Cute alpacas peeking at us
An old cottage style backpackers hostel
Akaroa is one a French colony, obvious through its French deco
I TEND TO HAVE THE HABIT OF RATING MY TRAVEL EXPERIENCES, MAKING A TOP 10 LIST IF YOU WILL. NZ has treated us well, I have had many unforgettable moments that I will cherish for the rest of my life. That said, I estimated that about half of all the wonderful incidents happened in this single day. We began with spectacular weather. The West Coast is a beauty but its torrential rains would often mask everything. We were exceptionally thankful to have bright skies, and endless views of the coastline.
En route to Charleston, we stopped at Punakaiki, famous for its pancake rocks. These are bands of limestone, worn away by thousand of years of unforgiving rain and wind, forming gigantic structures that resemble pancakes (hence the name). During high tides, the caverns receive spume of sea water through vast blowholes. There are many tracks worthy of a day’s hike but we were cramped for time so maybe next time.
The rugged coastline of the West Coast
The rocks certainly look prettier in person
“YOU ARE IN FOR AN EXPERIENCE OF YOUR LIFETIME,” THE RECEPTIONIST TOLD US WHILE HER EYES LIT UP WITH ENTHUSIASM. After finishing the formalities at the counter, the staff at the Charleston Tavern Underworld Adventures gave us a friendly explanation of our journey. “When you look up into the caves, you’ll see millions of glowing stars, it melts your heart.” The lady receptionist in her fifties, was so engaged I can almost visualize myself in the caves.
Glowworms are a funny bunch. They are only found in some places in NZ and Central America. They give out an eerie yet mesmerizing green glow to attract bugs (their food), and in Charleston, you get to visit them on a caving/rafting trip.
First, our group travelled through the rainforest on a bush train. The train, affectionately named Cecil, was having trouble getting up for work. The owner eventually ended his tantrum after getting some help from an old mechanic. Getting off Cecil, every one of us carried a rubber tube in our wet suits and hiked up a steep hill.
Our guides were superb. They were well-informed and helpful. They even had to sing and tell jokes to entertain us. We were brought into these dark caves, filled with many unique rock formations. Then, the real fun begins when we drift into a fabulously illuminated glowworm cave. The experience is priceless. To be able to witness such beauty brings out a deep appreciation to nature. Our trip ended with us shooting the rapids, complete with happy cheers and shrieking screams.
All waiting patiently while Cecil, the old train gets its engine going
Phew, the hike uphill was not easy
The intense experience of being surrounded by glowworms
NZ IS TRULY A BACKPACKERS PARADISE. We were staying mostly at either BBH or YHA hostels throughout our trip, and I find most of the hostels above average standards. However, the Global Backpackers in Greymouth surpassed all our expectations and more. This vibrant looking hostel has a charming appearance, a hospitable host and a funky vibe. The decorations are from Asia and Africa, things that our hosts brought back from their extensive travel. There are many details in its furniture design that makes it user-friendly and homey. The kitchen is well-equipped and fully stocked. I in particular love the various lounges that allow guests to sit back, relax and do nothing.
Eric and I agreed that this was in no doubt the best day of our trip. The glowworms were so pretty they are now a part of my happy memory. And what is the best way to end a perfect day? Spoonfuls of sinful ice-cream!
Intricate decorations within the backpackers
Eric pondering about his next great trip
A colorful kitchen
Hokey Pokey is a local favorite ice-cream flavor
Levitation of the day: The Charleston Rafting Office
OUR MAIN GOAL OF THE DAY IS TO DRIVE FROM FOX TO GREYMOUTH, ALMOST 200 KM AWAY. We are going to travel northbound on this narrow stretch of land isolated by the Southern Alps is literally called The West Coast. Coasters, people living here in the West Coast, are proud be have coexisted with their lovely landscape for decades. While most of the South Island have been turned into farming land, Coasters were aware of their fragile ecosystems and successfully maintained a big part of its natural beauty. Thanks to them, we were able to appreciate the rugged stone cliffs and thriving rainforest.
Just a stone’s throw away from Fox is the Franz Josef glacier. You can take a walk up to the terminal face but only choppers can bring you up on the ice. The hike itself is mostly flat, and you are surrounded by rainforest and the occasional waterfalls.
Feeling small near the Franz Josef Glacier
ONE WEST COAST TOWN THAT EXISTED THROUGH THE GOLD RUSH IS HOKITIKA. We were only here for a short stop but can’t help but to lurk around its many greenstone shops (too expensive though). There is a National Kiwi Centre which houses many NZ creepy crawlies, and a sock knitting museum which doubles as a commercial outlet. I preferred the detour to Hokitika Gorge, a gorgeous granite gorge complete with turquoise blue waters and a hanging bridge.
It feels great to travel independently, no fixed schedules, all the fun of spontaneity. Looking at the map, me and Eric decided to venture into a small parallel unpaved road. Other than not meeting any vehicles for hours, we were rewarded by a conflicting sense of peace and surprise. The West Coast is indeed blessed with many different micro-climates, ranging from the subtropical rain forest to the semi-arid prairie lands. We found temporary spiritual refuge at Dorothy Falls (somewhere in the middle of nowhere). This unique waterfall has water so dark it looks dirty. I eventually found out that this is due to the tannin in the water, a brownish substance created from dead rotting plants.
The Hokitika bell tower
Blue waters that are so appealing to the eyes at Hokitika gorge
A moment of tranquility at the Dorothy Falls
WE ARRIVED AT GREYMOUTH JUST IN TIME FOR THE SUNSET. Greymouth is the largest town on the West Coast, and is a good hub for many adventure tourism activities. It is also a great place to find good quality backpackers (I’ll elaborate on my next post). Many tourist arrive here from Christchurch through the stylish Tranz-Alpine Railways, which offer a chance to travel through the alps in the comfort of a luxury train. We captured many pretty photos at a random beach in Greymouth. Watching the sun set gives you a wonderful feeling of completion. I was expecting a boring day on the road, but now am satisfied with all the things we’ve seen en route.
Taking picture of the sun while he prepares to sink back to the ocean
The beach itself serves as a good photography background
Levitation of the day: Monteith Brewing Museum in Greymouth
THE ETERNAL ARGUMENT OF FOX AND FRANZ JOSEF GLACIERS, WHICH IS BETTER? There are of course a million answers to that question, but my advice is, if you want to save money but long for a incredible experience, take a Fox trip that you’ll never forget. To be fair, both are worth your time. Franz Josef is larger, it’s town has more shops, but it can be expensive because the only way to be on ice is via a heli-hike. Fox on the other hand is more accessible, can be done via a half day hike, but there is nothing much to do in town.
Whichever glacier you choose, the experience of being so close to these gigantic structures of nature is both inspiring and humbling. We chose the Foxtrot Hike offered by the Fox Glacier Guides, a half-day trip just to have a taste of being on the ice. After a short introductory talk, visitors take a short bus ride to the entrance of the hikes. You can only walk on ice with a guide, so if you are not paying for it, don’t think of stepping on it.
Our guide is very friendly, and gave us an informative walk through of this geological wonder. It feels much cooler when walking on ice, but I think that most of the paths are muddy and hence lack the “winter wonderland” feel. Anyways, I appreciate the glaciers more when I got to know how it was formed, which makes Mother Nature a true artist.
Sword fighting in Fox
BACK IN FOX, LAKE MATHESON IS ANOTHER WELL KNOWN ATTRACTION. When the winds are calm, you can see the elegant reflection of both Mount Cook and Tasman on the lake. It is worth staying after sunset because the starry skies lit up the mountain ranges, creating a romantic and stunning silhouette. Throughout the day, the constant rumbling of the glaciers echo around town. I believe this to be a gentle reminder to us, of how magnificent and mighty nature can be.
WE WERE NOT PREPARED TO SEND CHARLES OFF WITHOUT COMPLETING THE FELLOWSHIP WE HAVE STARTED. Charles was scheduled to leave tonight and the proper farewell would be end things where our mission would be. A day trip to Glenorchy is like a journey to Middle Earth. The movies were filmed all around New Zealand, but some quintessential scenes were done here in Glenorchy.
Just a short drive from touristy Queenstown, Glenorchy felt like worlds away. The small postcard-perfect town seems to be long forgotten. The one street community of 300 is blessed with a beautiful lake and a quaint café. While the streets look deserted, the Glenorchy Cafe is busy with patrons waiting for their own large portions of sandwiches and potato wedges. Its homemade ketchup and lemon mayonnaise complement everything.
After a filling lunch, we are ready to explore the 1 1/2 hour hiking loop surrounding the lagoon. The trail travels through several different micro-climates, ranging from a plateau of grassland to dead-looking marshes, all demanding attention from our resident photographer.
JUST LIKE THE TRILOGY, ALL BROTHERHOOD WOULD END TEMPORARILY WITH A COMPLETED MISSION. Charles headed home to his wife and work while me and Eric continued on. Warm sunny skies soon turned to rain and mist. We then drove pass the Haast pass into the rugged West Coast. With one person less, the car was often silent, and the weather indicated our mood.
In truth, we were deeply influenced by the weather. Here in New Zealand, when the skies are bright, life seemed tremendously positive. When it turns cloudy and grey, your spirits dampened and you lose your vision. Our drive was very gloomy. We nearly got trapped due to track closure, and the Thunder Creek Falls was from spectacular due to the rains.
Anyhow, we did manage to arrive at the Haast Wilderness Accommodation. Where we were suppose to break our trip to the glaciers. It seemed like a gift from the Maori gods when we noticed that we we’re the only ones sharing the spacious four bed dorm. The wi-fi is free and there is a playroom full of board games (for the bored, excuse the pun).
Though difficult, the end of one journey brings forth the beginning of another. Now with our heads held high, Eric and I proudly marched into our beds, in hopes that the duo would be able to conquer what tomorrow brings.