I left Christchurch at the end of August and traveled further south. My first destination was to Dunedin, a city known for it’s architecture, hilly geography, and is the home to the University of Otago. Dunedin gets its name from, Dùn Èideann, the Scottish Gaelic name for Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. After spending two nights I left for the Catlins, an incredibly underrated, rural and gorgeous part of New Zealand. I spent an incredible three days down there based in Owaka. I stayed at the Split Level hostel with manager, Jean Pierre, a South African transplant who migrated to New Zealand when he was 27. Jean manages the hostel full time but is also a member of the local fire brigade as a volunteer firefighter.
There’s so many sights in the Catlins that it’s nearly impossible to write them all down, some popular tourist destinations and some only accessible with local knowledge. The easiest way to see much of the sights in the Catlins is to drive along the Southern Scenic Route. On my way to the hostel, I stopped by Nugget Point on the northern end of the Catlins coast. The point gets its name from the rocky islets known as The Nuggets that surround the lighthouse. From Owaka, I headed to Purakanui Falls, then the Matai/Horseshoe Falls, then to McLean Falls. Of all the falls, McLean had to be my favorite due to the opportunity to climb up the falls (for those with a keen eye, you can climb up the waterfalls to the tree that hangs over the falls themselves, be very careful, don’t say I didn’t give you fair warning).
From the Catlins, I continued west to Invercargill; I didn’t stay long enough to see anything there unfortunately, then continued to Manapouri, the lakeside town where you can take an overnight cruise in the Doubtful Sound. The cruise itself was an amazing experience, and what made the experience even better was that you can kayak around the sound with a guide. Fortunately for us, it was drizzling that day, so there were waterfalls cascading off the cliff sides everywhere, a gorgeous sight to behold when you’re on the water. While in Manapouri, I stayed at the Freestone Backpacker 10 minutes outside of town. Jimmy the manager built the 5 timber lodges in the style of huts complete with gas stove and iron fireplace. The Heron Lodge (click through for description of the lodging conditions) is the only lodge with dorm bunks for $20. It was here where I met my friend Any, who runs the website, Island lullaby (it is in German). After spending three days in Manapouri and doing a horse trek with him, it was time to move along to Te Anau (only 20 minutes drive away from Manapouri) the lake side town where most travelers base themselves for the Milford Sound Cruise or the famous Milford Track multiday tramp. Continuing on with my travels for the West Coast, it was imperative that I visit Wanaka again to see my friends -which whom I hadn’t seen in five months- and attend a mate’s birthday party.
I arrived in Wanaka around midday to perfect, sunny weather, very characteristic of Wanaka and was in the mood for some quality food and drink. So I parked my car at my former work hostel -it was surreal seeing that place again, so many great memories were made there over the summer- and headed over to Relishes Café. It was great seeing them again and even better catching up with everyone at Paul’s birthday. As much as I wanted to stay longer in Wanaka, I needed to continue on for the West Coast. Only spending the day and one night on my friend’s couch, I made my way up highway 6 for the Haast Pass and the West Coast, but not before running into some travelers I stayed with in the Freestone Backpacker. After catching up, we all agreed we’d travel together to Franz Josef and ultimately take a guided tour on the Franz Josef Glacier. The drive through the pass was incredible, as the sights were vast with snow capped mountain ranges, dramatic valleys, rivers and of course, sand flies! Driving, lots and lots of driving, we eventually make it to Franz Josef and stay at a rather large hostel that doubles as a hotel, Chateau Franz: Sir Cedrics Backpackers. With $20 for a bed, free popcorn, dinner, breakfast, AND wi-fi, this was an incredible come up. This backpacker was massive and can host a large amount of travelers, we were lucky enough to arrive to a minimally occupied 9 bed dorm room. This place had many amenities readily available for cooking a decent meal for the four of us so we did take advantage and made a decent pasta dinner which consisted of real, fresh ingredients.
Come next day, we head into town for our heli ride onto the glacier. Now, the West Coast is notorious for having constant wet weather because it is a temperate rainforest, but we were lucky enough to be welcomed with two glorious days of unadulterated sunshine, glorious, glorious sunshine; which made our tour of the glacier a real pleasant experience. The next day we went to explore the area of Okarito and walked the coastal track. Unfortunately this day was overcast and cloudy with light rainfall so we couldn’t see the mountain ranges we were advertised, but we enjoyed the track for what it had to offer. After spending a total of four days in Franz Josef, we continued northward towards Greymouth. This time, we experienced what wet weather on the West Coast was like: torrential downpours then light rains, then torrents again. We had planned on visiting the Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki, but due to the poor weather conditions we decided to head for Nelson; I really regret not making it towards Karamea, because I had heard many great things about the area.
Nelson was a nice break from the wet weather. From Franz Josef, we had picked up two more travelers Jérémy, from France and Jacee, from Malaysia. Resting up for a bout two days, I took Jeremy and Jacee to Takaka and Puponga. Playing tour guide, I took them to the places I had been before: Pupu Springs, Cape Farewell, Wharariki Beach, and the Rawhiti Caves. It was great revisiting these beautiful places with fresh, new eyes to experience them. Our first stop, Pupu Springs, the water was the same clean turquoise color as I had remembered it to be. We continued to Cape Farewell. Windy as ever, we took in the sights of emerald rolling hills, dramatic cliff sides, and turquoise ocean water of the Tasman. We then headed over to Wharariki and had lunch in a cave where we watched the waves break upon the massive land formations that stand along the shoreline. From Puponga, we made our way to the cave in Takaka. The hike was a demanding one as much of the track needed maintenance, but due to its remoteness work has yet to be done. Upon arriving at the cave, the sound of our footsteps and the constant drip of water resonated throughout, making the cave not only a visual sight, but an audible experience as well. Making our way back to Nelson, the sun had begun its descent behind the mountains making the drive up Takaka Hill a spectacular yet difficult drive in the dusk. After adventuring through Nelson and the surrounding areas, it was time for Jacee and I to make our way back to the North Island. We hop on to the ferry and sail our way back to Wellington.
It was here where we parted our ways as she needed to be in Auckland for work. Following the same route as I took, Any, my friend from Manapouri, arrived in Wellington only a few days after I had arrived. He too continued up to Northland where I plan on heading. It begs to mention that I had been approved for a five month visitor visa so that a few mates and myself can walk the Te Araroa trail, the track that spans the entire length of New Zealand from Cape Reinga to Bluff; roughly a 3000 kilometer walk. I’m basing myself in Wellington for the time being so I can take care of logistics and plan accordingly what my next step will be. Over the next few months I will have limited or no internet access at all, so this blog will have random updates from life on the trail.
Stay tuned in for our adventures from the Te Araroa; adventure is what you make it, so go out and do it!
Thanks for reading,