Detailing my travels from Christchurch southbound then northward towards Wellington.
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!
Christchurch provided to be a place that I’ve drastically underestimated. Upon arriving, I immediately thought, “oh shit, this place is bleak,” and, “this place has nothing going for it”; but talking with locals and digging into Christchurch’s history, I’ve grown to appreciate what this city has and will have to offer. It was here where I’ve managed to work various jobs in construction, landscaping, and even glass manufacturing (the most interesting job I’ve had so far). A friend and I both scored a steady job at Metro Performance Glass, New Zealand’s largest producer of windows for the South Island. The entire time I’ve been working here I realized I’ve attempted to passively work one job while gaining experience for myself, as if my departure from a job wouldn’t affect my coworkers, but as soon as I began working at Metro, that passivity soon began to turn on me.
My role at the factory was a general hand labourer. I was placed in one of the most busiest and physically demanding departments in the factory with my supervisor, whom I worked beside. In the production process, when glass is cut from the stock sheet and beveled, it was one of my responsibilities to unload numerous batches of glass, some of which had over 200 pieces with varying thicknesses and heights, that were to be “toughened” or tempered at the furnace. Weeks into the job, I still had in mind that I’ll be leaving the job soon anyway, so what would the point in befriending my coworkers? Alienating myself from the rest of my coworkers was the worst decision to make. Though my title limited my range of skilled work, my work ethic had drastically expanded my responsibilities. A month into the job, I was managing machine malfunctions and organizing sheets of glass that were to be loaded into the buffering machine, all the while working alongside my supervisor (he’ll be known as, “super” from here on), the one man team became two. Throughout the duration of my employment, I began to get to know and bond with my coworkers, I actually liked working along side them! This is where my internal struggle began. What was I to do, make friends with these guys, work as hard as I can for my coworkers, and then bail on them whenever it was convenient for me, or do I remain here and work as a “general hand?” I struggled with these thoughts, but in the end I ended up choosing the former over a permanent job offer. In a way, I could feel the disappointment from my super because as much as he denied that it wouldn’t matter to him if In left, him having another skilled worker managing our department made it easier on both of us, the disappointment is what really hit close to home. I realize that I’m coming of age where I’d like to find a career that I actually enjoy, I’m searching for my vocation and it wasn’t found at the factory, I needed to push on. The guilt of leaving my coworkers behind is a fucking pain to manage, but if anything, its presence means that I did do my best at what I was assigned to do, and that in itself is gratifying.
It’s the middle of August, my visa expires in October, and I still have much of the south to explore. Majority of July and August have been two intensely introspective months, rife with personal, relational, and career development, all of which I can’t be without. These past two months have placed a strain on my relationships with not only myself, but with everyone around me and the ones back home. In desperation to decompress and mull over everything, I needed to escape from Christchurch for a weekend. I had recently taken a trip to Methven to visit some friends whom I made back in Wanaka during the summer. While there, my friend Kem and his coworker Tom (hodor), both work at the Mt. Hutt ski field, brought up the idea to hike the entirety of the Te Araroa Trail. Without any doubt in my mind, my intuition was saying, YES, YES, YES!!! and I heeded its beckoning.
So now that my plans have shifted slightly away from Australia, I need to restructure and take care of business so that I may stay in New Zealand on a visitor visa this time around. We are planning on beginning the trail in November.
Remember how I said I wanted to take a trip up to Kaikoura? This past weekend we made it happen. A mate of mine here at the hostel wanted to make the weekend a surfing trip, but as luck would have it, the board wouldn’t fit in my car; but we still went anyway. We arrived in Kaikoura around half past two in the afternoon to be greeted by sunshine, cool weather, blue skies, and clean surf breaks, unfortunately this would only be a camping trip.
After driving around, we checked out Kaikoura’s iSite to find a place to camp and decided to base ourselves at the Puhi Puhi doc site, just a 25 minute drive north of town. Kaikoura is a beautiful small coastal town on the east coast along State Highway 1, just about two hours north of Christchurch – this makes for an amazing change of scenery and is well worth the drive. The town is well known for its abundance of marine life, ranging from Sperm whale watching, swimming with dolphins, or throwing down $$$ on some great cooked crayfish, as Kaikoura is still a mass producer of crayfish within New Zealand. You can also observe a Fur Seal colony on the eastern edge of town. It also begs to mention, that with a 30 minute drive north of town, you can reach the Ohau Stream Walk where you can watch fur seal pups hanging about in the waterfall pool.
If you’re looking to do some hiking, there’s the Mt. Fyffe track in the Seaward Kaikoura Ranges which gives you a panoramic view of the peninsula from the summit, a must do for the outdoor enthusiast.
Time sure flies when you’re not paying attention. I arrived in Christchurch nearly three weeks ago, staying this long was probably one of the dumber decisions I’ve made so far. I came here to look for work, but living costs seem to overtake my wages. As a backpacker, you’re able to get work, but the trick is finding something that brings in a steady income. I’ve only had a few days work the entire time I’ve been here and I’ll probably have better luck finding steady work elsewhere; but at least I accomplished what I came here to do, get my car fixed. It’s rather disorienting going from a nature reserve to an urban setting in such a short time that I forget that New Zealand does have cities like Christchurch. Now my next step is to figure out which direction to go, do I head north up to Kaikoura with my car or do I head down south to the Catlins? I’ve toyed with the idea of leaving my car here at the hostel and taking the bus up to Kaikoura for a few days. It’s relatively small and I wouldn’t need a car to get around, if I were to stay there for a few days, Ideally I’d like to camp out in my car and save on hostel expenses; But being that it’s nearing winter, the temperature does drop into the negatives and I’m not quite sure if I have proper sleeping equipment to stay warm throughout the night. Talking with travelers along the way, I’ve learned that the Catlins are pretty remote and that supplies aren’t located conveniently, so it’d be wise to come well stocked with food, water, and cooking devices, as camping out there could be necessary. A former coworker of mine mentioned a few need-to-see spots while I’m down there, mainly Curio Bay and the Petrified forest. I’m sure there’s heaps to see down there.
Yesterday I left behind the comforts of Wanaka to head over to Christchurch to get my car repaired, and now I’m tempted to start working again to make more money to fund my travels. It is nice to be able to travel again, but when necessary evils like car repairs, booking hostels, and buying food/drink, begin to pop up, and it helps to have an amount of cash that can ease the burden of having to take care of those things.
Update: I’ve decided to stay in Christchurch for a stint to work and have my car repaired. Transmission and clutch repairs are around $700-$800 (fuck me sideways). I’m going to need work so I booked an interview with a construction agency for me to find work for the time being. This should be interesting.
The travelers I’ve talked to told me that Christchurch is bleak, they weren’t wrong. I took a stroll through the city with some guys I had met that Foley Towers and there are construction sites everywhere. Amongst all the city rubble lay a scheme for new opportunities for new development and growth for this city. The city is congested with traffic cones, construction signs, shipping containers, and building scaffolding; but behind all the metal and dust, street art thrives. From tags scribbled discreetly on building corners to massive murals on entire building facades, art is everywhere; watching over the city’s residents juxtaposing the bleakness of its own construction. Christchurch currently has an exhibit dedicated to street art hosted at the local YMCA, featuring artists local and international, it’s completely worth checking out.