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Goodbye New Jersey. Hello World! A record of my journey as I give up my job, my possessions, and life as I know it to go off and see the world!

Road Tripping the South Island

NEW ZEALAND | Sunday, 11 December 2011 | Views [3806]

The time had finally come to use the "holiday" part of my working holiday visa. I was coming up on 8 months of working in Queenstown, and it was time to take a break. My boyfriend Steve and I toyed with a few ideas. Shall we go to Fiji? Singapore? The North Island? After much hemming and hawing it was agreed we would stay in New Zealand and explore.

Now Steve and I had both traveled around New Zealand already, both of us using different tour companies. This would be the first time doing it on our own, and with each other. We had two goals in mind: Sun and relaxation. Having already visited these places before, we thought we had no surprises ahead of us.

So on a Monday morning we were off. Into my old “94 Mazda Capella we went. As I settled behind the wheel I prayed my extremely worn, backpacker-abused beast of a car would make the long journey. Poor Steve was suffering in the seat next to me, having gone out for his 30th birthday the night before. I was angry and had a feeling I would be on my own for the first day’s worth of 6 hours of driving. No matter it would be in a car with a busted radio and a slightly musty odor.

Navigating New Zealand, particularly the South Island is one of the easiest things you can do. No map is required as there is usually only one road to get you from one place to the next. You pretty much stay on that road the entire time, which is more often than not one lane. Thankfully every now and then there are passing lanes so you can get past any tourist or truck you have been stuck behind. At each intersection it is clearly labeled with which important towns are in each direction. Compared to driving the east coast of the states where I would sometimes get lost 20 minutes away from town, this was a cake walk.

So, after I passed through some familiar towns around Queenstown, I reached the crossroads with a sign pointing towards the West Coast. Ahhh….a chance to leave this place for awhile. A little while later we passed by Lake Hawea, which I still feel is one of the prettiest places in New Zealand. It’s uninhabited with turquoise water surrounded by a certain bareness common to the center of the South Island. I remembered when I first laid eyes upon this at the end of January. I couldn’t believe that places like this existed, as if it was sprung from someone’s dream. It was back in February I vowed I would do everything in my power to live here…..and here I am.

But as we journeyed closer and closer to the West Coast the weather became worse and worse, typical. The last time I was here there was nothing but rain, sand flies and a lot of sheep and cows. It appears not much has changed. I’ve been told that when the clouds clear it’s actually quite spectacular, but unfortunately I would not be experiencing it on this trip. For hour and hours I was so bored driving through and endless cloud. We wound our way around the mountains we couldn’t see, and the landscape was never changing. When we stepped out of the car we were confronted by a colony of sand flies, which immediately went for the good old ankles. When we got back in the car we tried everything in our power not to scratch and thus create more itching problems later when we try to sleep. To be honest, I wouldn’t mind never visiting the South Coast again. Don’t get me wrong, it is something to do if you are road tripping the South Island. I just hope for your sake that you are fortunate with the weather. While there is something mysterious about the clouds and rolling countryside it is just not for me. The whole drive I knew that there were majestic mountains surrounding us but was frustrated I couldn’t see them.

We spent the night in Hokitika, a small seaside town famous for its jade production. The clouds were low and it almost felt like a ghost town. No one was on the streets or at the beach. The shore is covered with beautiful flat, gray green, and white stones. Steve and I wandered the foggy shore picking out the perfect stones for each other. Despite the poor weather we marveled at the ocean and the cheapest fish and chips we had seen in ages. In our cozy little hostel room we got to listen to the wind and the sea.

The following day involved more driving. More up hills and down hills and curves, of course. We passed through Greymouth, a town I think is pretty large by west coast standards. It is on the sea and I could see the appeal of living here. Winding and winding we went, getting impatient and taking the turns a bit too quickly. Now the roads were winding alongside the seaside and it was far more exciting. The weather was still a bit grim. You couldn’t see very far in front of you from the fog. The sea was continuously pounding and shaping the land. Large cliffs and rocks jut out into the ocean and I couldn’t help but think of the 12 Apostles on the Great Ocean in Road in Australia. It’s funny how when you are traveling you can’t help but compare it to other things you have seen traveling. At least that is what I do. Perhaps that is why I feel traveling to continue to be so appealing, as it reminds me of happy memories of all the things I have seen and done. I feel very fortunate that I have the memories to begin with.

You drive through so many little towns on the South island. You cruise along at 100 kph and then you see the new speed posting, clearly labeling the town name. Usually you have to go down to about 50 or so. You literally wiz through the village in less than 5 minutes. Usually you pass a petrol station, a café, probably even a dairy (convenience store). Fortunately there is always a public toilet not far for those long road trips. Then as quick as you arrive you are back on the road, back to the middle of nowhere….correction - you never really left it. Every time we drove through one of these towns Steve would wonder who would think to put a town there, and why anyone would want to live there. Some towns were set up on an industry that thrived years ago. Others…well I just don’t know.

Finally we got closer to Abel Tasman, starting first at Montueka. We gawked at the cheaper produce in the supermarket and bought our dinners for the next few nights. And then we were there - right outside Abel Tasman National Park. We were a bit discouraged about the weather when we arrived but thrilled the next day as we had sunny skies, a sandy golden beach, and shallow, Caribbean-like waters. We had practically the beach to ourselves as we got to relax and laugh about how this was just as good as Fiji. It was exactly how I remembered the last time I was there, although this time I was sharing it with someone that I loved. I remembered when I was backpacking on my own and I constantly found romantic spots where I wish I had someone special to share with.

Our hostel was lovely - tucked away in the woods with birds singing all day. Although Steve and I had the joy of sleeping in a bunk bed. I was starting to really enjoy my time with him without TV and work and all the other distractions and stress of reality. We had the pleasure of talking with a 50 or so year old woman from England who had been traveling for 8 months already. I love meeting the long-term travelers, as they have a certain calm air about them. I wonder what short-termers thought of me when I was on my long trip.

A few days of that and we were off to Nelson only a few hours away. But first we visited a place that neither of us had ever been to before, the Golden Bay area. Up there we discovered more sapphire blue water, funky quaint towns, tiny coves and surprisingly a pretty populated area, at least by New Zealand standards. The trip did involve one of the steepest, windiest, and longest roads I personally have ever driven. On our way out of the town I started to smell a horrible, burning order. Moments later I discovered it was my breaks burning. Oh well. No real surprise with this car.

The city of Nelson was haven to us, containing things we can’t get in Queenstown. Our eyes went wide as we saw the 3D cinema, beach along the sea, lots of shops and sadly even the Pizza Hut and Dominoes. Originally we were going to stay just two nights but we immediately changed it to three. Our hostel had a funky vibe to it, including the fattest cat I think I have ever petted. We enjoyed the warmth, the beach, the free chocolate pudding our hostel supplied us and yes, even though the Dominoes. And that pizza was just as shitty as I last remembered. Unfortunately Steve and I started again with the whole “what we are doing with our lives?” conversation that is often prompted by some drinking. We wondered what it would be like if we lived up here. I started to recall just how different I felt while traveling and how easy it was for me to get into that mode again…like a perfect glove. The stress was gone, I was more active and in a way felt healthier as well. It was a nice change from my office job and sitting at a desk all day. We visited a couple of hip bars, one advertising flaming cookie monster shots and another that was in an old church. When we did leave we were sad - filled with what-if’s in our head. But I kept reminding Steve that this place was exciting because it was different, as most places are. And that if the tables were turned and we were living in Nelson and visiting Queenstown we would probably be feeling the same way.

We were off then for a day of driving along the east coast. We got to Kailoura, one of the prettiest seaside towns I have ever been to. I still have strong memories of my visit in February of the smooth black stones touching the aqua sea. The windy road along the coast. The mountains that dipped into the sea. Unfortunately our arrival was met with rain, rain and more rain. I did get my Christmas shopping done for my family back home. As cliché as it sounds, Steve and I spent the afternoon sharing wine and cheese, as you should do on a holiday. After a drunken nap we found ourselves in small pub listening to an Irish musician, who referred to the Kiwi Experience as “the fuck bus“.

The following day was the longest drive yet. We stopped at Christchurch and curiosity had us trying to see what earthquake rubble we could find. The last time I was there was the two days before the earthquake and to be honest I wish I had spent more time exploring the CBD and cathedral square. We stopped at McDonalds and I had my second Big Mac ever - my first being in Beijing. We were originally looking for a Wendys or Denny’s remembering that they were in Christchurch, or at least they used to be. I will chase anything form the States that I miss. Unfortunately McDonalds would have to do.

We unfortunately had a bit more of poor weather as we made our way to Lake Tekapo. Another awesome, although quiet place to visit. A special place for Steve and I as we had spent time there before. Tall, purple flowers of all shades were everywhere, something I had never seen before. We tried to make the most of our last day and spent time relaxing in the available hot pools and sauna.

Our drive home was lined with the brilliant purple flowers. My mind wandered as the scenery started to become more familiar again. We passed the barren hills, the waving grass, the rocks and we followed the purple flowers home. I felt pleased with my first holiday with Steve, despite its rocky start. I felt good about seeing pieces of New Zealand again, and exploring new ones. But I also felt a sense of closure as well. I’m good with the South Island I think, and I am ready to check out some new things.

Steve and I arrived back in good old Queenstown and were greeted with warm, sunny weather that arrived when we were gone. Waiting for me was my South East Asia Lonely planet I ordered from Amazon a few weeks ago. Hmmmm. I’m starting to feel more ready.

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