I flew down to Queenstown from Auckland with my small day bag and a huge smile on my face. I loved the South Island last time I was here and I was excited to see it without all the snow.
I had decided to challenge myself, so I hired a car and drove around the South Island for 8 days on my own. I met a guy who said what happens if you break down, my response was indignantly, ‘I can change a tyre!’ Looking back I’m not sure how true that actually is 🙈 as it’s been years but luckily I was fine.
So just me, my car, a map and the open road! I’m not going to lie, at times it was lonely and I did go whole days driving in the wilderness without talking to anyone but it was also fantastic. So much to see, beautiful and spectacular scenery. I’m actually pretty proud of myself and feel like I could do anything on my own if I put my mind to it. Anyways deep and meaningful stuff aside…….
First stop was Wanaka, last time I was in Wanaka everything was covered in snow. I’d spent 10 days there living in a motel room with 5 other people and we spent most days attempting to get up the mountain to ski and or hungover. It was a pretty different experience this time. The lake is beautiful, and of course the famous tree ( see blog cover photo!)
I stopped off for lunch and to pick up some supplies. Mainly water, pasta, chocolate and wine! It was like being a student again.
That night I camped up at Lake Hawea, only about half an hour on from Wanaka but equally as breathtaking, if not more so. The colours of the water were so blue against the mountain backdrop. When I arrived I walked around a part of the lake; it was so windy you could barely hear yourself think. It’s one of those places where nobody is around and it makes you very reflective. After my walk I sat and just looked out over the lake for hours. Well what felt like hours, was probably only half an hour!
The next day I rose early to get on the road for my 6 hour journey. If I’d driven straight there it probably wouldn’t have taken so long but I stopped off along the way as there are so many trails to do and waterfalls to see. So I turned my Xmas songs on, i had a great singing session with nobody to judge and drove. First stop was the blue pools (see pic below). The water is light blue from the glacial meltwater and full of minerals. I walked down to the blue pools through temperate rainforest with barely a soul around. The sand flies are a bugger though so I’d recommend trousers!! I had to walk across a few canopy bridges which always freaks me out. 1) I don’t know why I suddenly became scared of heights and 2) why do people always think it’s a great idea to jump!!!
After the pools, I stopped off at a few waterfalls along the way and also the river a couple of times. The water is ice cold and so clear you can see the fish.
I arrived at Fox Glacier at about 4, it looked like it was going to chuck it down with rain and was so sticky and humid but I decided to risk it. Only an hour walk up, what’s the worse that could happen. Luckily the rain held out. The walk up there amongst the river bed was not that exciting I have to say and full of tourists. It’s an easy walk except the last 10 mins which is really steep but it’s worth it for the view at the top. Fox Glacier, how I do love a glacier haha. As you can see from the photo below the clouds looked like they were touching the surface of the ice. I met a young Aussie family at the top who were trying to educate their children on what a glacier was. We started talking and she asked me about my journey, so I told her where I’d been and about my road trip to which she responded ‘ god your brave’ – seems to be the response you get from half of people and the other half saying ‘I wish I could do that’ – you can do it!
I had intended to do Franz Josef that day too but just as I got to my car the heavens opened, instead I drove up the stunning and wild West coast ( see above) to my hostel at Franz Josef and walk up the glacier the next day.
I stayed in the same hostel I’d stayed in 8 years ago when I came to Franz Josef and it has not changed one bit. I recognised all of it, including the free popcorn they give out. It’s still the same.
I had every intention of just walking up to the glacier by myself. You can’t do the walking tours through the glacier any more like I did last time. It’s too unstable so you have to go up by helicopter instead. I decided if I did a guided walk I could go up just a bit further and get a bit closer to the glacier. Personally I’d say it’s worth it as you actually learn about its history and future but you can easily walk up for free too.
I could not believe how much it had shrunk . It was incredible and really sad to see. The second photo below is where the glacier was 8 years ago when I first came here. It’s shrunk that much!
Our guide was saying that every about 300 years there is a catastrophic event on the fault line that runs up the west coast. They are currently 295 years from the last one so are beginning to make plans if such an event should happen again. Usually large earthquake. They don’t know what this will do to the glacier but the earthquake would most likely end up cutting of the town of Franz Josef from the rest of the land as its only joined by small river bridges which would be destroyed by the heavy melt waters! Therefore they are currently thinking about moving the town 7km up the coast to a safer area. They reckon if an earthquake were to happen they’d be cut off from civilisation for 3 months! With only 300 people permanent residents it wouldn’t be too bad but with sometimes up to 3000 extra tourists a night in peak season it’s not something they can afford to happen. It will be interesting to see what decision is made.
I’d decided to do heli trip up to the glacier in afternoon. I thought why not and had got really excited about my first ride in a helicopter, however sadly the weather turned and it was cancelled. Apparently 80% of flights are cancelled due to weather conditions. Just my luck. Never mind, onto my next stop, 4 hours up the coast to Hokitika.
There is nothing really in Hokitika but the drive to there is spectacular. I was only there for an evening but I took a walk song the wild coastline and watched the sun set over the sea. Enough go blow the cobwebs away I can assure you.
Next stop, Lake Tekapo. My longest drive of the week which took me about 7 hours. But when you are driving along roads that have a view like the photo below who cares! Today I mainly listened to podcasts, it was so hot it didn’t feel right listening to Christmas songs. I listened to the Guilty feminist, and the Infinite Monkey cage by Brian Cox. One of the episodes I listened to was about the brain and it was so complex I actually had to pull over to understand what the hell they were talking about!
I arrived at Lake Tekapo, and this was my home for the night. Glamping by the lake. It’s actually the same price as a hostel in NZ and I think technically is part of a hostel. Lake Tekapo was one of my favourite stops last time and this time I think probably the same. The waters are crystal blue, and against the blue sky just stunning. I need to get better vocabulary because in these blogs everything is beautiful and stunning but quite frankly, they are the best words to describe these places. Dramatic beauty as far as the eye can see.
That night I met an English couple in my tent. We chatted for hours, cooked dinner and drank too much wine but when you’ve spent almost an entire 24hrs only talking to the guy at reception it was lovely to meet Amy and Lee. We hit it off straight away and don’t think we stopped talking until way into the night when we had to go fill up our hot water bottles as it was freeeezing!
The next day I hung out by the lake reading a book which was perfect. It was nice having a break from driving before setting off to Queenstown the next day.
I loved Queenstown last time and I loved it this time. Again so different without the snowy peaks. It’s the adventure capital but this time around I wasn’t terribly adventurous. I chilled out for a couple of days, went to the cinema to see Wonder when it rained all day (so good) and then on my last day went for a boat trip around the lake. I also had a Ferg burger…. finally and the hype is worth it. It was delicious. I stayed at Adventure Q2 hostel and I don’t normally name the hostels but this is one of the best hostels I’ve ever stayed in. I’d definitely recommend.
The night before Xmas eve I flew back up to Auckland. Ani picked me and my Christmas hat up from the airport and we went round to hers for cheese and wine and a Christmas film of my choice. I went for the Holiday which I don’t think either of them enjoyed too much.
It was so hot in Auckland it didn’t really feel like Xmas, it was very strange. I’ve never been away for Xmas in 30 years and I felt very far from home. Chris and Ani had very kindly invited me to their friends Christmas party on Christmas Eve which was lovely. We had a full scale Xmas dinner, along with crackers outside in the blazing sun and it was brilliant.
The next day, Christmas Day I had no plans. I was going to have a ‘me’ day but I met a some friends at the party who very kindly invited me over for Christmas day. I’d only just met them but they said I couldn’t spend Christmas on my own and I was very grateful for their incredible hospitality. Beth, Lawrence and JP made my Christmas Day brilliant. We drank copious amounts of alcohol, went to the beach (see below), went swimming in the sea and played games all evening. A very different Christmas to my norm, and theirs I think, but brilliant. So thank you so much guys if you read this!
I spent Boxing Day with Ani and Chris and it was a perfect end to Christmas. They’d very thoughtfully got me a pressie and kept the ones my family had sent over! Times like these you realise you are very lucky to have such an amazing family. I got a stocking from my mother – the legend and well needed clothes and chocolates from my sisters.
Boxing Day ended with a brilliant but as ever awful game of Cards of Humanity. I won which I don’t know whether to be happy about.
I said goodbye to Ani and Chris. It had been so lovely to hang out with them over the last month and they had been amazing! Was sad to say goodbye….. until next time.
Merry Christmas all 😊❤️