The Grand South Island Adventure

Fiona Bell University of Auckland, New Zealand


October 5, 2017

The trip began with waking up at 4:00am on the first Monday of the mid-semester break. Little did I or my fellow adventurers know that it only takes 5 minutes to get through the domestic terminal at the Auckland International Airport. There wasn’t even security! I was even more amazed at the Nelson airport. Baggage claim was literally claiming our bags on the tarmac as they were thrown out of the plane. The rest of the day was spent wandering around the town of Nelson and enjoying some sun on the beach. Once our whole crew arrived in Nelson (everyone booked different times based on what was cheapest), we crammed all five girls, including myself and our luggage, into our rental car, and drove to Marahau, a “town” at the edge of Abel Tasman National Park.

The Abel Tasman was the perfect way to kick off our trip, or at least in my mind it was. Our first full day all together began with a nutritious breakfast of peanut butter oatmeal (quick oats with a healthy scoop of creamy american style peanut butter, and yes there is a difference between New Zealand and American peanut butter), apples, and some source of caffeine, my preference is black tea, but many of my fellow travelers are passionate about coffee. We then took a water taxi out into the Abel Tasman National Park, spent the day in the National Park, and then took another water taxi back to Marahau. The time in between two taxi we hiked, took an ungodly amount of pictures, ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, hiked some more, ventured over a terrifyingly unstable suspension bridge, crossed a low tide track during a time that was definitely NOT low tide, got rained on, jumped into the ocean, and sat, freezing to death in a hut eating trail mix, until the water taxi picked us up. To top it off once we got dropped off from the taxi we had to walk back to our hostel in the pouring rain, which sucked because we assumed that we would be chaffered around like we were in the morning. Some (I mean the four other girls) might say that the day progressively got worse and ended disastrously, but I loved it. It was up there as one of my favorite days in the south island. Yes we got rained on. Yes we had to run through some rivers that soaked everything from our knees down to get through the low tide track. Yes we smelt like fish afterwards. Yes we almost froze to death. Nevertheless, it was an unforgettable experience and it was one of the most beautiful hikes I have ever done.

We continued onwards and downwards the west coast of the south island in the following days. Our next stop was glacier region. Unfortunately, it was very rainy so we caught glimpses of the Franz Josef and Fox glaciers. We also attempted to see Lake Matheson, which is known for it’s ability to perfectly reflect the the back side of Mount Cook. On the plus side, we saw the lack, but the only reflections we saw were of a bunch of low hanging gray storm clouds. The real highlight of our time in glacier region was the free soup that the hostel provided.

The next stop on our adventure was Queenstown. Note that up until this point of the trip, I had successfully managed to forget the fact that we had signed up to do the largest swing in the world, which is located 40 minutes outside of Queenstown. Of course I was obviously reminded that this was happening when we arrived in Queenstown. Our first full day in Queenstown was spent silently eating enough oatmeal to settle our stomachs, but not enough to make us throw up, sitting on a bus while songs like “Highway to Hell” played, and then willingly being dropped off of a tiny hut suspended above a massive canyon. To say I’m afraid of heights is an understatement. The people working at the swing, obviously saw this and let me be the first victim because they knew that if I didn’t go first I was going to bail. I can honestly say it was one of the worst and most terrifying experiences of my life. The only things I can really remember is is silently crying, and then seeing my feet above my body as I hurtled downwards. It is no surprise that I spent the rest of the day in pure shock, staring out a window in the hostel with a cup of tea in my hands. Despite the traumatizing experience, I’m glad I did it because now I can say that I have faced my greatest fear. Thankfully, the rest of our time in Queenstown was significantly more boring, which was due to the snow. Thankfully, I love the snow. We all got out and explored the town and took full advantage of the delicious restaurants. I even did some hiking (uphill, downhill was basically skiing/slipping).

For our next adventure, we traveled down to the small town of Te Anau, which is known for being the closest town to the Milford Sound and Fiordland National Park. I can easily say that it was our group’s favorite place on the whole south island. I can also easily say that we were unrealistically lucky throughout the trip. Our luck really came through the day we went to the Milford Sound. The Milford Sound was closed for a full week and a half leading up to the day we had booked our Milford Sound trip, due to a terrible avalanche that closed the road. The day we got picked up to go was disgusting and rainy and, our driver said that the road was still closed, but there was a chance it would open up again. We decided to risk it and got on our little bus. An hour and a half into a 2 hour bus ride, we got to the part of the road that was closed. There was a line of traffic and everyone was resigned to the fact that we would have to turn around. After 5 minutes of sitting in traffic, a construction worker came over to our bus and said that they had just finished clearing the road and that we would be some of the first people to go in to the Milford Sound in over a week. Not only did we get to see the Milford Sound, but it was also a sunny 60 degrees instead of the 40s and raining forecast we got that morning. It was a perfect day and was the most stunning place I have ever been. To top it off, there are these giant mountain parrots called Keas that only live in Fiordland National Park, and we got to see a bunch of them.

After chilling by Lake Te Anau and taking all the natural beauty and serenity we left to travel back up through the center of the South Island to get to Christchurch. On the way we spent days in Wanaka, a tourist town built around a single tree that grows out of Lake Wanaka, Mount Cook, and Tekapo, a black sky reserve (a place that is so in the middle of nowhere that you can basically see the milky way when you look at the stars). We ended our trip in Christchurch, which was a surprisingly artsy town, but still obviously suffers from the destruction of the earthquake that hit them in 2011. Our last night was spent in an Irish pub watching the New Zealand All Blacks destroy the South African Springboks, and reminiscing over our trip. We all come to an agreement that it was incredible that five girls, who were basically strangers to each other, managed to plan a two week road trip to a place that none of them had ever been, live with each other twenty-four seven, and get along perfectly well. Our ability to build friendships with each other, not get into any petty fights and avoid passive aggressive behavior was the the real luck we had. In general, I am just so thankful that I got to explore a beautiful place with a bunch of amazing girls that could face and solve any and all problems and unexpected craziness that came at us during our two week grand adventure.