This was our last stop, before heading back to Auckland to catch flights leaving New Zealand. The “The Garden City” – or: Christchurch is the south island´s main hub for tourists. It´s a wonderful place bustling with shops and restaurants. The evening we arrived, a downtown festival by the Indian community did set us in a perfect mood right away: We ate from the inexpensive food stalls alongside the square where many locals and Indians were dancing and cheering.
Driving from Te Anau to Invercargill would take us through Tuatapere, which is affectionally called “Land of the last light”. However, the southernmost town is Invercargill, where we stayed for two nights. At 46°25’30? South, 168°18’36? East, this site was definitely the most Southern place we ever have travelled. But this record came at a price when we visited: It was very cold, scattered rains and icy winds blowing through the streets. Even in high summer (January), average temperatures reach 14°C.
Practically untouched by man, the “Doubtful Sound” is the deepest of all fiords in New Zealand’s Fiordland. The English explorer, Captain Cook did name this area “Doubtful Harbour”, since he was uncertain whether he would get enough wind in his sails to return to the open sea. Michi and I did choose the small town of Te Anau as our base, from where we then would explore the Doubtful Sound, located in the Fiordland National Park.
The road from Fox Glacier to Queenstown is a very scenic ride through New Zealand’s Otago region. Alongside Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea, the road finally reaches the touristy town of Wanaka. This might be a scenic hangout for people with a car (or camper van). However, since most of the activities in the surrounding areas do require booking a tour or drive to the tramping tracks using individual carbon footprint contributing machines (read: cars), we decided to continue to Queenstown by bus. There, hiking tracks are much more accessible by foot. Moreover, the town itself generates enough entertainment for a day or so.
Among other major sights in New Zealand’s Westland, Michi and I visited the Franz Josef and Fox glaciers – which are about 20km apart. Having seen numerous glaciers in Switzerland, Iceland and Alaska before, I did find both of these New Zealand ice structures quite particular: They are surrounded by green rain forests, aren’t particularly elevated and do level out near to the shorelines of the sea.
Julius von Haast – a German explorer – named one glacier after Franz Josef I, an Austrian Emperor, back in 1865. This reminded me of a conversation I overheard here in New Zealand while sitting in a bus a couple of weeks ago. Some (retired?) British tourists were very excited to visit one of “their own” historical homeland. There, I realized, that I probably was considered a second class tourist, since I’m a non-British foreigner. But my inferiority complex quickly faded, as soon as I visited the place called “Franz Josef”. Now that’s definitely not a very British name. For once, I was the one who knew how to pronounce properly a city name.
The small town of Punakaiki features the famous Pancake Rocks and Blowholes, along the highway from Nelson to Greymouth.
Luckily, our Intercity bus stopped there during the journey, just long enough to visit the park and hop back on the bus. The wheel-chair accessible park features heavily eroded lime stones, some of where the sea spits water through numerous vertical blowholes when the tide is high. The stones were layered through millions of years into a form which resembles a stack of pancakes – hence the name.
Our first stop on the south island of New Zealand was the city of Nelson, where Michi and I intended to go for some extensive hikes.
The Abel Tasman National Park features several scenic walks. Named after an explorer in the 17th century, the trails draw heaps of tourists to this area. We set off to do parts of the major track, called the “Abel Tasman Coast Track” – from Tonga Beach to Anchorage Bay. To get to the starting point, we had to take a water taxi from Marahau. On the way, we had time to spot penguins and a seal colony.
New Zealand is the first country during my journey, where I fully ignored the name of the Capital city. Thanks to Michi and the Lonely Planet I am now in the know: It’s Wellington. This gem of a city boasts having a stunning harbour and being surrounded by hills. Truly, it feels a bit like famous San Francisco, in terms of narrow, steep streets winding up and down numerous hills.
The town of Rotorua was Michi and my first stop on our way to the South Island. We’re travelling using a flexible bus pass from the nationwide “Intercity” bus. This gives us plenty of options to hop on and off the bus. Other travellers would rent either cars or vans to visit the country. These come at a slightly higher price, when compared to the Intercity bus. And then, there are various other bus companies, geared towards the backpackers, such as the Magic Bus or the Kiwi Experience.