Last it was read on this blog, I was beginning to trek my way across New Zealand’s South Island in an overstuffed station wagon. By now, perhaps you’ve wondered: was she eaten by sheep? Did she get stuck in the mountains? Is she still alive down there?
In reality, I’m just a procrastinator (surprise!) Since returning from break weeks ago, I’ve been busy with a seemingly endless list of assignments and projects, which has lead to my radio silence. So: yes, I made it back. By now I feel like the point of recounting my travels is nearly moot, but then again, what else do I have to tell? What follows is what I wrote during those two weeks, when I had the light and the pen to do so (both proved to be obstacles on occasion). Last I left off, it was Easter morning…
“Of course, we couldn’t leave Dunedin without a trip to its well-known tourist attraction: the Cadbury chocolate factory. It wasn’t hard to let your mind wander into thoughts of Willy Wonka upon seeing the rows of chocolate bars and confections. A silo here houses a chocolate waterfall, serving no other purpose but the novelty of watching a ton of the melted stuff fall four stories. We got to learn how the Dairy Milk bars and Jaffas–neither found in America, but both iconic in New Zealand–are made, and where each ingredient is sourced from. They say it’s the fresh Otago milk that makes the chocolate so good, and I think I might just believe them.
We made our way down Route 1, then joined up to the Southern Scenic Route snaking along the coast. Each town looked the same: hotels, convenience stores, and a stretch of sandy beach. Leaving Otago and entering the Southlands, it was if we were in another country; dense forest grew next to rocky shore, and cresting each hill brought us expansive views across inland bays. This region is known as the Catlins: home to temperate rainforest, rare wildlife, and the southern-most shores of the South Island.
We set up camp in Curio Bay and explored a petrified forest at low tide, the fractured red rocks of which were home to yellow-eyed penguins–one of the world’s rarest species. We were lucky enough to see two that night, along with a few seals and sea lions. Having only seen the ocean a handful of times in my life, I still never fail to be in awe of the thunderous crashes made by breaking waves.
As you might expect, it can get pretty windy on the edge of an island–but around midnight that night, we were struggling to keep our tent from being blown away. We staked and re-staked the $40 Kmart tent, eventually relying on faith in our hopes that the poles wouldn’t snap. Thankfully, both the tent and those inside made it to the morning in one piece.
After our fitful sleep, we continued our drive along the Catlins Coastal Route. A stop at Slope Point brought us to the southernmost tip of the island, bringing me the closest I’ve ever been–and probably will ever be–to Antarctica. Waipapa Point, site of New Zealand’s most fatal shipping disaster, was home to a lighthouse and reminded me of Montauk. Finally, we made it to the city of Invercargill, where a visit to the Invercargill Brewing Company served as a fine welcome. After a particularly delicious dinner of homemade burritos and local beer, we kicked back in our cabin and slept without so much as a breeze.
Our time in the Southlands had come to a close, and for the first time on our trip we headed north. Our destination was Te Anau, a town on a lake of the same name and the base for our exploration of the Fjordlands. Almost immediately out of Invercargill, mountains stretched across the horizon. Suddenly, it felt like the “real” New Zealand: all the scenes from postcards and promotional videos were now ahead of us. It quickly became clear that this was the tourism capital; every vehicle on the highway was a tour bus or campervan. This area was also home to three of the Great Walks, a collection of nine extraordinary multi-day hiking trails across the country.
In Te Anau, we walked on the shore of the lake and saw the beginning of the Kepler Track. Although the weather was sunny, the low clouds that moved in with the wind reminded us that we were now on the West Coast. That night, we camped beside a river and ate nachos that, by far, were the highlight of our cooking.”
…and I think I’ll stop there for today. Next time: fjords! Glaciers! Bungee jumping (an activity in which I did not participate)! Stay tuned–and I promise it won’t take me a month to continue the story this time.