It may (or may not) come as a surprise but I’m not currently in New Zealand. I’ve been living in Boston since July 2015. Yes, I’m still writing about trips nearly 3 years ago. People often ask how I still remember any details of what happened on a specific day, years ago. The secret is that I took notes daily so that I wouldn’t forget people’s names or places or specific moments. Looking at my notes for the South Island in New Zealand the first bullet point says:
- Abel Tasman, drive boat, campervan with Flo and Heli (invited after knowing for 30 min, accepted another 30 min later), bonded over chocolate and pitch perfect 2.
How cute that I thought I might ever forget about Flo and Heli, and bonding over chocolate. The adventures that came next are unforgettable.
We took Barney, our green-and-purple campervan, on the ferry from Wellington to the South Island and started driving west. We drove to the edge of a bay just south of Abel Tasman National Park and stopped in a nondescript parking lot to sleep. There are free overnight lots throughout NZ for campervans, some with a bathroom and others just a patch of gravel. Barney was cleverly designed with a kichenette in the back and even it’s own toilet. The main compartment could go from driving seats to kitchen table to full bed in just minutes. A panel in Barney’s ceiling slid out to became a small sleeping loft and there was even a tv with a DVD player. Fortuitously we stopped at a video store our first evening and found the original Pitch Perfect movie, which we watched at least twice.
In the morning we ate a quick breakfast and took turns washing under frigid outdoor showers. When you’re not sure when your next shower will be, you take what you can get. We started at the park’s information center, a #vanlife-er’s best friend in NZ. These information centers were all over the country providing free information like weather conditions, hiking trails, and, most importantly, free toilets. We did have a portable toilet in Barney but none of us wanted to use our teeny squat-a-potty. I’d take a tree or a bush or a conveniently large rock over a port-a-potty any day. But I digress. In Abel Tasman we took a speedboat out to the middle of the park and hiked back to Barney. The weather was quite gloomy and it sprinkled on and off, but it was still a day hiking and that was better than not.
When we got back to Barney we raced the daylight down the coast. We wanted to reach the “Pancake rocks”, or Punakaiki, before sunset. We ran across the street from the van to the water as the sun hit the ocean over the pancakes. After the sun had sufficiently set, we drove inland to park Barney for the night by a lake. This free campsite had a bathroom and potable water, such luxury.
We started the morning with coffee by our (nearly) private lake. We had a long day of driving but we’d take breaks for pictures, dance parties, make sandwiches, sing car karaoke, all while driving through the rolling hills of sheep. We’d pull off the highway and take a walk, follow a trail without a sign, and find a good place to watch the sunset. There’s something magical about sunsets while you’re on vacation or traveling. They’re more vibrant and special, and you have to have just the right spot to enjoy them. You’d think that sunsets don’t happen every day, the way that we take Instagrams.
At the end of the day and after another-beautiful-sunset we passed signs for Franz Josef Glacier, our destination. Our parking lot for the night was an uninteresting and crowded stretch of pavement. We saw a few vans that we recognized from nights before but generally everyone kept to ourselves; we had all the company we needed. In the morning we hiked up toward the glacier to get a good view of it. Sure there were helicopter tours that would land you right on the glacier long enough to take a few selfies, but at $170 per person we decided to pass. Instead we hiked to a viewing platform that had recently reopened so it as nearly empty. It was a satisfying 5-hour hike and by the time we got back we were ready to sit, and drive on.
Further south we passed Fox glacier but if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all, right? In reality we had a lot of ground to cover before our arrival in Christchurch. We parked after dark near a mirror lake, planning to visit it first thing in the morning. But the weather didn’t cooperate and in the morning it was drizzling, and the lake was just a messy puddle.
We pressed on, determined to make the most of the day, and eventually the rain passed. The mountains appeared and the lakes shone blue as we continued to Queenstown. Queenstown, the adventure capital of New Zealand, where you can ski, snowboard, skydive, bungee jump, hang glide & go fishing, all in one day. And have a burger after.
Will I keep blogging after I finish writing about NZ, the last country on my Around-The-World trip? You bet! I still travel and adventure all the time, I just have a home base (for now) in Boston.
Categories: New Zealand