I had decided to attempt some sleep before Pat arrived from Singapore but no luck so, after rolling around for 3 hours anticipating the South Island, I got up to let him into Unilodge. After a brief catch-up we attempted a short nap before getting up to catch our shuttle to the airport. It arrived at 4:30 and we ran out to meet it just exhausted from lack of sleep. Pierce, Joe S. and Chester were already there and once Pat and I showed up we were off to the domestic departure gate of Auckland International. It was still dark outside and, according to Patrick, much colder than Singapore. By the time we had checked in and ditched the luggage, the other Arcadia students were already lined up at McDonalds for some good ol’ Mickey D’s Breakfast. An hour later we were taxiing down the runway and on our way to Chirstchurch, Mid-Semester Break had officially begun.
Christchurch was the site of a terrible 6.3 earthquake back in 2011 and with the shortage in labourers and the mass exodus from the once beautiful South Island hub, there was still some extensive cleanup and reconstruction to do. After a brief stop at Bivouac to grab a stove and sleeping bags, we did quick tour of the CBD. Aside from the lack of people and excess of construction equipment working to rebuild the mess that was downtown, I noticed a ridiculous amount of graffiti decorating the ruined buildings. I guess seeing as most of the condemned buildings were to be torn down in the end, it didn’t matter much what happened to the ruins. Some of the graffiti art was actually pretty cool. After pulling a mainer we had decided enough was enough and it was time to head West toward Arthur’s Pass.
The car we had rented from Jucy turned out to be a Diatsu POS a model which apparently does away with that annoying trunk in the back of the car. So there we were, five us, each with luggage and enough food to survive a week, crammed in this tiny box of a car. It was a rather comical game of Jenga each time someone had to get out and use the washroom but the novelty soon wore off and eventually we just learned to accept the Friction Fit that was our car. After grabbing some pies from a nearby town, team Friction Fit made it to Castle Hill in time to meet up with the other group of 5 (Joe C., Jess, Marjie, Amanda and Gemma) who were busy grabbing crash pads for some bouldering we had scoped before coming down. As if our car wasn’t tight enough, the last thing we needed was more stuff, but we managed to cope and once everyone was snug in the back seat, shotgun could shove the mat in through the open window. The mat sat just high enough to completely block the view of everyone in the backseat and by the time we made it to the bouldering site, Castle Hill, I think we were all ready for a breath of fresh air. Unfortunately, the weather had been quite wet prior to our arrival but we hauled the mats along anyway and tramped down the path to Castle Hill proper. It was nothing like anything I had ever seen before. After five minutes of walking alongside a pasture full of shifty sheep chewing their grass, suddenly a massive field of limestone boulders rose to fill our view. From a high vantage point, it was easy to see where the rocks had come from. Apparently there was once a massive slab of limestone that had been eaten away in places leaving behind a field of boulders, some hundreds of feet high. The rock was a little too wet for us to boulder effectively, that and I think we were all a little exhausted from the early morning, so we decided to explore instead. Although we didn’t lace up the climbing shoes, heading up on the rocks was still an amazing experience in itself. After scrambling up some grassy knolls and limestone ridges, we could get a full view of the field and the surrounding cliffs. We decided to go for it and make for the top of the cliff, a task easier said than done as the intermittent field of limestone boulders was a veritable labyrinth of caves, archways, drop offs and dead ends. We made it though and before long we were looking down from the cliff into a somewhat cloudy valley and here we decided to call it a day and make for the campsite. It was getting dark and starting to drizzle. We made our way a short distance down the highway and arrived at our campsite for the night. It had started to rain lightly so we all rushed to set up the tents and get dinner going. After a dirty dinner of sausages we decided to call it a night. Despite the non-ideal weather, the first day of South Island travels still managed to exceed my expectations!
The next day the rain continued to pour. Not wanting to stay cooped up in the car all day, we got out at a roadside trail to go for a quick jaunt through the saturated underbrush. It was a good way to stretch the legs and by the time we called it quits, we were all thoroughly drenched and ready to continue on our way. We spent the evening in Arthur’s Pass warming up with some hot chocolate by the fire in a small pub. That night we made our way back to a small campsite on the side of the road and set up camp. Now, the initial plan was to hike Avalanche Peak, a significant tramp that would have had us going for the better part of a day, but owing to the fact that the rain showed no signs of quitting, we were strongly advised not to proceed with this venture. Plan B was a short walk through the Bealey Valley, a track that meanders through the woods and into a river valley. We managed to scramble up the river bed following a series of small rock piles placed there as trail markers. Pat and I took the time to construct our own trail marker, a good old Canadian Inukshuk, or ᐃᓄᒃᓱᒃ, for my Inuit readers. We continued along the river and up a sidehill until we were overlooking a false glacier comprised of avalanche snow from the previous winter. The Bealey river had cut a path right under it giving it an arch-like shape. Further up were a series of whispy waterfalls terminating in small pools that contributed to the flow of the Bealey. This was our turnaround point and after a short trek back through the woods we were off to the West Coast.
Our first glimpse of sunshine came to us in a town called Hokitika, and here we stopped to dry out and enjoy the view of the west coast waves. After skipping a few rocks in the surf and a quick meal of fish and chips our travels took us south toward Franz-Joseph Glacier. Here we dropped Joe and Chester at the hostel while Pat, Pierce and I headed on to Fox Glacier to meet up with our friend Nathan. Nathan first of all, is a Kiwi Patrick and I met back in BC while working for Cecil during the summer. He flew the helicopters that took us to work every day so we got to know each other quite well over the summer and this was an awesome opportunity to drop in and say “hi”. As expected we “got into the piss” pretty hard that night and were definitely a few hours late picking Joe and Chester up from Franz the next morning… After saying “bye” to Nathan we headed to the base of Fox Glacier’s namesake for a quick hike up to the viewpoint, a trip that did not help the searing, piss-induced headache from the previous night. After Fox we headed south through Haast and into Mount Aspiring National Park. After a quick stop in Wanaka, a nice little town on the lake, we continued down through the Crown Range and into Queenstown. The drive was fun and very curvy as is consistent with all New Zealand mountain highways. After a good set of switchbacks the highway spat us out in New Zealand’s adventure capital Queenstown, a very whistler-like village covered in hostels, board shops and delicious restaurants.
I better cut it off here before I get carried away! Currently, I’m back in Auckland studying, both dreading and looking forward to my flight back home July 2nd. Thank you for the read, hope you enjoyed it!