I’ve been cruising around the south island for 2 months, and if I had to squeeze my impression in one word, it would be "awesome". There are so many things to do, to see, to experience, to enjoy... I started my exploration with 3 days tramping in Nelson lakes, on the Traverse-Sabine circuit. I already told the story.
Then I went to Murchison, one of the best kayak spot in NZ, to paddle hopefully. And I manage to find a few people there to paddle with, all with different levels. It’s always fun to see the difference between how they are actually paddling and what they told you. The river wasn’t so hard and I was pretty much the only one enjoying each wave. And I jumped twice a waterfall, Akiri falls, with low water (making the fall harder). The first run was feeling like a piece of cake, but the second one made me remembering that it shouldn’t be the case each time!
Not so much water to do other rivers, so I left for Westport and Tauranga Bay for some really good kitesurfing. I met again one guy I paddled with in Murchison, Andrew, who showed me a good spot to spend the night at the bay, perfect place!
I left Westport with a German friend I met in Thailand, Bastian, who was traveling with Kiwi Experience. I had to show him how to truly travel in New-Zealand, with a van! We drove on the west coast, down to the Glaciers (Franz Josef & Fox glaciers)
The weather wasn’t so good but the glaciers weren’t amazing for me, spoiled by Chamonix. So we headed to Wanaka, one of my favorite place in New-Zealand. I did my first skydive jump from 15000ft and an afternoon of mountain bike in the sticky forest and around the lake.
The village is small and nice, with all you need for summer & winter activities. Later I looked for a job as a mechanic in one of the bike shop, but they didn’t need anyone since it was getting to the end of the season. But I got an offer to work during this winter in the ski shop. Offer that I declined since I’ll be right in my big adventure I’m preparing in the US.
Next to Wanaka, there is Queenstown, which made me the best show. A good strong wind blowing over the lake for the whole day! When we arrived there I skipped the grocery shopping and went directly to kite, the lunch can always wait!
Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown’s lake
In Queenstown, I met again two French girls who were working in Nelson at the backpacker. The whole family bus went to the far end of the lake in Glenorchy, before spending the night at Kinloch.
The wind was proud to have shown up the day before and needed some rest apparently. Though I tried to avoid the bike shops to not be tempted too much to buy a new one, I skipped on biking in Queenstown and went to Te Anau since Valerie got an email about the DOC looking for volunteers to listen to kiwis on a protected island in the Fiorland. A place you wouldn’t be allowed to go otherwise. But when we got to the DOC office, I understood quickly that I wouldn’t have this chance.
We went for a driving day on the Milford Sound road to see those extraordinary landscapes. And this is just the top of the iceberg...
Then I got kind of motivated for an helicopter flight over the sounds, but I was still unsure, especially due to the price that it would cost me, over 500 NZD. The problem was solved after viewing the stunning movie made by an helicopter pilot from Te Anau who worked for the movie Lord Of The Rings. He made a 30 minutes movie called "Ata Whenua - Shadownland", a must see if you are ever coming to Te Anau. With Sonia, we didn’t move from our seats and stayed for the next show, it was soooo beautiful!
From Te Anau we moved on to the Catlins, the coast between Invercargill and Dunedin. The landscape was again amazing and we could see seals, dolphins, penguins, and albatross. I did next to Invercargill, in Awarua bay my windiest kite session... So windy what I almost landed on the rocky beach on one of my first jump... scary. And I also did my longest hanging time in the air, something about 3-4 seconds.... it’s long when you’re up there, I promise! And I was flying... flying... hoping not to land on the beach, neither on the road or the high voltage lines next to the road. But it was wicked!
The seals at Waipapa point
The penguins at Curio bay
One day, as usual, we were looking for a nice spot next to the sea to spend the night, and we got the idea to traverse this little, not so deep looking, puddle. Well, Valerie made it with her car, but I got stuck, with the van leaning on the front-left side, and deep enough to get water into the passenger side... Luckily we found someone to tow the van out of the mud before the rain came.
At the end of the Catlins, there is Dunedin, a big student city. We spend two nights there, but not in the city. It feels too crowded after being in the countryside and villages for more than two weeks. It felt really strange and in a way terrifying to be back in a big city (big in the new-zealand way). One evening, we went to see the blue penguins at dusk (or more realistically when it’s pretty dark) when they are coming back from their day in the sea. Small little penguins, easily scared, but so cute to watch. No pictures because you can’t use a flash, and it was so dark. I almost couldn’t see them with my proper eyes...
The rest of the coast is with penguins, seals all the way almost. The highlight on the coast to Oamaru was the Moeraki boulders.
From Oamaru, it was time to leave the coast to see the mountains again and especially Mt Cook, the highest peak in New-Zealand. The lake in front of it is just stunning! A glacier lake with an incredible color.
I met again Simon, who I met first in Nepal, and we spent 3 days in the area together to do a walk to see the Tasman glacier and its lake, and also the South-East face of Mt Cook, the Caroline face. A hanging glacier that you don’t really want to climb! It’s big, but not as steep as what I’m used to with Chamonix. Still I think you can do great heliski during the winter.
Simon & Caroline face of Mt Cook (you can’t see the summit)
It was also in this area, at lake Tekapo, that I spent my best nights. I found a spot to have the van 1 meter from the lake, no sandflies, no mosquitoes, and beautiful sunrise & sunset... I didn’t want to leave the place!
After the 3 days, Simon had to buy a van... he got the taste of the free camping life. We drove to Christchurch together, had a proper bed for 2 nights and shower + laundry... Back to a clean life! I tried to work in bike shops, but it’s the end of the season so I was really too late. No worries, I wasn’t looking to get a job for the money but more to do something else and to see how is the daily job life here. It would have been interesting.
And after Christchurch, the bad weather made a comeback, and a good one! Heavy rain alert for 3 days! And when you’re saying heavy rain, it’s heavy heavy rain... You don’t want to be in the backcountry in a hut, with some river crossing to do... I had to postpone the hikes I wanted to do at Arthur pass and spent a few days in Tauranga bay again, waiting for the rain to leave and hoping for some wind on the coast. The former happened, not the other one...
Back to Arthur pass, I did with Simon, who found a van in the meantime, a 3 days tramp: Edwards-Hawdon huts via Tarn pass (photos) thanks to the recommendation of the DoC, with a bunch of river crossing and some orientation... to find the marker/track. It was really fun, a small little adventure! Nothing to compare with the highways of the most walked tracks.
After such a good tramp, I was motivated to do the other recommendation I got from the kiwi couple I met in Nepal, and to spend a week in Kahurangi National Park to do the Lesslie-Karamea-Wangapeka tracks (photos). I spent a few days in Nelson to prepare it, buying dryfood, checking the weather, looking how to do the shuttle, and what I shouldn’t miss for the photos.
Seven days later I was back in Nelson to rest and to get ready in my mind to leave the south island... Thanks to some couchsurfers I spent two lovely days with John & Karen in their house.
It’s been already 2 months in the South, so it was definitively time to get back on the North’s one. I couldn’t leave without doing the Queen Charlotte track, one of the best (or the best) MTB track in New-Zealand. I was specially waiting for March to be able to do it from Ship cove, since one section is closed to MTB during the peak season. Arrived in Picton I looked for a bike rental and how to get on the track. The woman at the reception was insisting that it would be really hard to do the 71km in less than 7 hours (time I had between the water taxi boat rides), and of course I took the challenge and insisted myself to start from Ship cove... That’s me, isn’t it? A challenge, I take it!
Early morning when I woke up around 6am, it was only 5 little degrees Celsius outside... Freezing cold night in the van. What an idea to go biking?? And at 7.30am I was at the shop getting my bike and jumping on the water taxi. I made it in 6 hours, plus half an hour for pictures and my lunch breaks. The view is just stunning! And the track can be really technical. I have to admit I fell once in a turn, with my front wheel slipping away on a downhill. Well, I was supposed to be short in time, so I took some risks ;-) It’s really a must do for MTB lovers! I will do it again if I have the chance to.
And then... the day after, early morning again at 6am (it’s not holidays every day, you see!) I was queuing to load on the ferry back to Wellington.
The South Island is such a beautiful place, I love it!
My last sunset on the south island, Queen Charlotte Sound... Can't be better!