April in New Zealand: a time of chilled rain, changing leaves, and adventure abound. For the University of Canterbury, April also means no school. That’s right, from April 3rd to April 26th, my fellow UC members and I are free to do as we please without the constraint of our usual class schedules. Students are quick to fill up each one of these days with big travel plans, not wanting to forgo a moment of this opportunity. Being the schedule-loving planner that I am, I too spared no time creating my April itinerary. Time is the key that opens the door to adventure, and with the door open wide, I am determined to take a step outside!
My April travel plans are divided into three parts, with a different excursion for roughly each week. This past week, my friends Christoff, Jess, Taylor, and Daniel accompanied me on our own make shift tour of the northern part of the Southern Island. Our journey began on Sunday afternoon once our Fiat Punto was packed to the brim with tents, sleeping bags, extra food, hiking gear, and five eager friends. The first stop on our loop was Arthur’s Pass, a National Park about an hour west of Christchurch. Sunday night was pretty quiet, and we spent our time setting up camp, walking around the very tiny town, and talking until long after the sun went down.
I awoke the next morning bright eyed and ready for the day, despite the gloomy drizzling weather. My friends and I spent our whole day hiking through one of the many trails Arthur’s Pass has to offer. Our hike took about four hours one way, which was challenging but completely worth it. There were valleys and peaks enough to satisfy even the most avid explorer’s enthusiasm, and we even saw a rainbow delicately decorate the horizon. By the time we reached the top of the mountain, I felt so proud of our accomplishment. I mean, me a mountain climber? Who would have thought! Our trip down took a little less time, but man oh man were my feet sore by the time we reached the car again. Tired and hungry, we all piled in the car and decided setting up camp didn’t sound too appealing, so we continued on to Greymouth and stayed in a hostel for the night.
Tuesday morning we all awoke refreshed in our adorable hostel rooms. The hostel itself was in an old Victorian style house that was beautifully decorated to feel like home. There were lots of other twenty-somethings who stayed the night, many of whom were also international travelers. I was sad to leave, but eager to see the next stop on our tour; Paparoa National Park. Paparoa is famous for its pancake-like rocks, breathtaking costal views, and rainforest hikes. It rained pretty hard the day we visited, but I think it added some character to our jungle expedition. We hiked, explored a cave, and saw one of the most beautiful beaches I had ever seen. Magnificent waterfalls overlooked giant, sculpture-like rocks that lined the shore, which itself was a sight to behold. The sand on this beach was made up of perfectly smooth, gemstone looking rocks. It was a pocket of perfection; one of the little nooks in the world that gives passersby a glimpse of what heaven must look like.
When we were content with what we had seen, we decided to take advantage of the sunlight and began driving towards our next stop. The road was long, but at this point, I had grown pretty comfortable with driving on the opposite side of the road, twisting and turning along the mountain side. Heavy rain prevented us from setting up camp that night, so in a podunk town in the middle of nowhere, we stopped for the night at a hostel called the Lazy Cow. It still amazes me how much we lucked out that week with finding such wonderful hostels. The hostel itself was a one-story ranch house filled with cute cow knick-knacks. The owner said that he had been full the past few days, but on that particular night, we were the only ones there. So with the whole house to ourselves, we made a communal dinner, took long showers, and sprawled out on the living room couches to watch Zoolander.
Like the first hostel, it was sad leaving the next morning, but after about an hour’s drive north, we made it to Abel Tasman National Park. Luckily the rain held up for most of the morning, which allowed us to set up camp, eat a quick lunch, and drive to the beginning of the trails. Abel Tasman is the perfect hiking spot for anyone keen on exploring. Every few minutes, there are little paths that entice travelers away from the main road and down roads less traveled. These little detours are the doorways to stunning beaches, each appearing as if they had never been touched by any human before. My friends and I spent the whole afternoon leisurely taking these detours, finding new beaches to admire, and walking as far as we pleased. Once we were back at the campsite, we cooked dinner together and spent the rest of our night playing cards, laughing deep belly laughs until our abs were sore and we were wiping tears from our eyes.
Like a well-oiled machine, we deconstructed our tents early the next morning, repacked the car, and headed off towards Nelson. Nelson was not the big city we assumed it would be, but instead is a cute harbor town filled with cafes, bookstores, and second-hand shops. We perused the town slowly, stopping whenever someone saw something interesting in the shop’s window. Along our walk, we came across the site where the first rugby game was played and a lovely hike that produced beautiful views of the town. After a stroll along the beach and a quick bite to eat at a harbor café, we decided to leave Nelson a little early and set up camp in Picton. At this stage in the game, we were all pretty tired, so our night was quiet, but still included a couple of rounds of BS and Egyptian Ratslap.
Before we knew it, Friday had arrived, and it was time to drive back home. The road from Picton to Christchurch was the longest drive by far, but the road took us right along the east coast the whole way down. Along the way, we stopped in Kaikora for lunch. Kaikora is famous for its abundant marine life, so after eating, we took a small detour to a seal colony. There, we found dozens of seals napping on the rocks! They looked like delightful furry blobs lining the coast. We unfortunately couldn’t stay long, so we hopped back in the car and returned to Christchurch, completing our tour. As the weeks continue, I will have even more stories to share, so stay tuned!