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The South Island of NZ

NEW ZEALAND | Sunday, 3 June 2007 | Views [568] | Comments [3]


At first the south island seemed much like the north; that was until we arrived in Christchurch the other day and I realised that I had not seen a traffic light for 2 weeks. There are huge areas of the south island where you can drive for hours without seeing a house or a turning off the road that would suggest human presence near by. The Southern Alps run down one side of the south island, their western side almost touches the coast so at points you are driving on a winding road perched high above the sea, hugging the side of forest covered mountains. On this side of the mountains it rains 9 days out of 10, and this is where you find the glaciers. The last part of the western side of the south island is a jigsaw of mountains and fiords created by glaciers thousands of years ago. If you look at a map of New Zealand there is this whole area where there is not even a single road and it is totally uninhabitable. On the eastern side of the mountains it is a totally different picture, and whereas rain has made the west an unfavourable place, it is the lack of rain that has the same effect on the east. The run up to the eastern flank of the Alps is flat and you can drive right up to the base of them. All the rain falls on the western side and does not make it over the mountains to the east so that this area resembles desert scrub - there are very few trees and the main foliage is small shrubs and grasses. As you move away from the mountains, sandy coloured hills roll over flat plains and we were driving for at least an hour before we saw green fields and farmland. The width of the Alps is only a couple of miles, yet the contrast is spectacular.


Our first stop on the south island was Nelson. We only stayed here for a couple of days as most of the activities available here you can do everywhere else. We found a wonderful hostel, aptly named the Paradiso – large comfy beds, comfy TV area, FREE breakfast and FREE soup for dinner (luxuries you do not find on the north island), and a nice garden area with hammocks and a pool/hot tub/sauna. The area around Nelson and the bay is gorgeous though, and if I was to move to New Zealand to live properly I would probably choose this region.


We then made the mammoth trip down the coast to Franz Josef and only just made it before night fell (I really wouldn’t fancy driving on the bendy mountain roads in the dark). The village of Franz Josef is solely there to cater for the packs of tourists who come to see the glacier. As such there seemed to be about 5 motels/hostels for every house. We through caution to the wind and forked out for the full day trip as everyone we spoke to said that you get to see a lot more and the extra money is definitely worth it – and boy were they right! From a distance the glacier doesn’t look very impressive. The main part that you can see is the dirty terminal face, which is a sludgy grey colour from all the gravel it has picked up as it moved down the mountain. This is the part that you climb on the half day trip and it’s dirty and melting at a very fast pace. The glacier does become white as it leads up the mountain valley, but the main part of the glacier can not be seen from the ground as it sits behind the mountain tops. Once into the whiter part of the glacier the ice stopped melting quite so quickly and became firmer. The glacier apparently moves a couple of metres a day and because of this and the rate at which is melts the features on the glacier are changing constantly. For example, we climbed through a tunnel in the ice that had only become big enough for someone to get through the day before (it was a very tight squeeze – I ended up getting stuck and had to come out upside down). As the ice melts it forms deep cracks where the ice is a brilliant blue colour and we walked through a few of these, which was an experience. Just before we started our decent the guides brought us to a sink hole and somehow managed to persuade four of the lads to jump into it. The look on their faces when they hit the water was priceless. With the prospect of a 2-3 hour trek back down the glacier you would not get me jumping into freezing cold water in just my pants! The glacier walk was exhausting but it was an amazing experience. On our flight from Christchurch to Melbourne we flew over the Alps and I was able to see the top part of the glacier from the air which looked amazing.


Our next stop was Queenstown and by this point we were exhausted and tired of moving every couple of nights so found a really nice hostel and stayed there for a week. The hostel was called ‘the last resort’ but was one of the nicest we have stayed in. It was run by Chris, originally from Newcastle, who had a dog called coco who was similar to a husky but I can’t remember the breed. The hostel felt like staying in a house as there were only 4 dorm rooms of 4-6 people, and an open plan kitchen/dinning/internet/TV area. Chris had brought a new DVD/TV system and he had shelves full of DVDs and videos so we literally sat there for most of the week just watching movies and we had a Lost marathon. This was really good timing as I got a cold on our second day and the thought of moving or doing anything active was the last thing on my mind. When we did go out we decided to walk up the hill next to the hostel which we had been told was an easy 40 minute walk. It started off nicely enough but it was such a steep hill and the main part of the walk was along an access road that went through the forest so that you couldn’t see anything until you got to the top. The view was worth it though. Queenstown is on one side of Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables Mountains (the main ski slopes for Queenstown) are on the other side. Again another great view of mountains and water.


Queenstown is a really nice place and it had the best nightlife (not that we sampled it) of any where in New Zealand, including the major cities. Though we didn’t do much I have fond memories of Queenstown and would happily go back and spend longer there.


Our next stop was Milford Sound, which was amazing. We went for the night cruise so we got to sleep on the boat and spent a lot longer on the Sound than the day cruise. The weather was glorious sunshine which is unusual for the Sound as it rains 200something days a year. The Sound is beautiful but after having spent the past 3 weeks admiring mountains and water it didn’t have the same impact that it would have had if we’d come straight from home. We sailed out to the opening of the Sound and stopped in a bay to do some kayaking before we headed out to the Tasman Sea. It was definitely an unforgettable experience watching the sun set over the Tasman while sat in a kayak. On the boat we got the most amazing dinner (and even got apple crumble and custard for pudding which I have been craving for ages) and sat down with some Americans to play scrabble. It was a funny game but I lost terribly. I would have won if they had allowed one of the guys to put down ‘rerape’. Now I know it’s not a word but it would have allowed me to play ‘zebra’ on a triple word score and I would have caught up with the winner (which was Rich who always wins everything, the b….d). The next morning it was really foggy and when we sailed back out to the Tasman again it started raining. In some ways this was a blessing as we got to see the Sound in both its moods, and there is something very eerie about the Sound in the rain. You can’t see too far in front of the boat so the channels and the mountain sides slowly approach you out of the gloom. The rain also means that the waterfalls are full of water and so they make great splashes when they hit the water and lots of spray comes off them. The best part of the morning was a school of dolphins that were in the Sound. We got to see them jumping about and playing really close to us and when the boat picked up speed they started to swim by the side of us, I guess trying to play with the boat.


Next we went to Mount Cook, the tallest mountain in the southern hemisphere. You approach Mount Cook village from the eastern flat side of the Alps. The village is beautifully nestled in the base of the mountains and the view from every window is of the mountains. We only spent one night here as there is only one hostel and it’s very expensive. There are several tracks that lead from the village and we decided to do the Hooker trail which led to a lake at the base of Mount Cook. The walk was really nice and followed a river that flowed from the lake. We didn’t stay long at the lake as it was sandfly heaven, but it was beautiful and had little mini icebergs floating on the water. The trail wasn’t hard so we had worn trainers but my converse decided that they didn’t like my little toes and so gave me the biggest blisters. The blister on my right little toe was as big as my toe again and almost doubled its size. Who says exercise is good for you?!


Our last destination in New Zealand was Christchurch. It’s quite a nice city with lots of old colonial buildings and open spaces, but you don’t come to NZ for the cities. From Christchurch we flew to OZ…

Tags: Mountains



Brilliant reading - I supppose I mean writing - have you considered a career in journalism??

  Mum Jun 28, 2007 9:24 AM


hii jees , sound like ur havin fun i had an very good time in salou and i hope u hav andnice time as the journey goes on

luv u lil cousin dec

  declan Jun 29, 2007 6:25 AM


Hey lovely - glad your having such fun! This was definately the one I needed to read- I have booked my ticket so I need all the info I can get!! speak soon xxx

  Jennie Aug 8, 2007 9:24 PM

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