The South Island – West Coast
When I arrived on the South Island, the poor weather persisted. I started in Nelson, the sunniest place in New Zealand, but it was still raining. In fact, New Zealand was experiencing its worst winter in years. Consequently, crops were adversely affected and the prices of vegetables and fruits were ridiculously expensive. A sample list (all in NZ$):
Cucumbers – $8 each
Tomatoes – $8.99/kilo
Zucchini – $14.99/kilo
A very small head of lettuce – $3.99/kilo
In Nelson, I stayed in a homey hostel where I met a guy from Vancouver who detested Torontonians and Toronto although he’d never been there in his life. He said that he tells non-Canadians that there are only three cities worth visiting in Canada: Vancouver, Halifax and Montreal. The funny thing is he’d also never been to the other two cities. I wanted to visit Abel Tasman National Park but since rain was in the long-term forecast I decided to move on and visit later.
The next stop was Greymouth, a shit-hole of a town but a mandatory stop on my bus route. I guess I never mentioned that I opted to travel through New Zealand on a backpacker bus: The Magic Bus. The name may conjure images of laid-back, drugged-out, psychedelic people but in reality, the buses were usually driven by irascible, bitter bus drivers.
When I arrived in Franz Josef it was…surprise, surprise…raining! Luckily, the next day the weather was beautiful which was great since I opted to do a full-day glacier hike. The setting was pretty incredible: the glacier valley descends right into a rainforest.
The hike was much harder than I thought it’d be. You need to wear crampons which prevent you from sliding on the ice but really restrict your mobility. There were also a few times where I had to descend down steep, nearly vertical sets of stairs. By the end, my not-so-good knees were really sore, and I had sore legs and thighs on the following days. Despite the pain, the glacier walk was an amazing, almost surreal experience. The ice was a lovely blue and I’m still amazed by the natural patterns found on the ice.
Next destinations were the resort towns of Wanaka and Queenstown, the latter probably being the most popular tourist destination in NZ. Both are part of the Southern Alps. Wanaka was beautiful and quiet but the hostel was absolutely disgusting. The hostel was composed of multiple self-contained units. I was sharing one unit with 5 other guys who were mostly long-termers and did not up keep the unit. One guy worked at a ski resort and dried his boots on the heater. The entire room smelled like dirty boots.
I really disliked Queenstown, the so-called adventure capital of the world. Sure, the scenery is beautiful but it’s crowded, touristy, glitzy and loud. If you were not snowboarding, skiing, bungy jumping, skydiving or whatever, there was absolutely nothing to do apart from riding the gondola (where you do get amazing views).
I only saw two bookstores in the entire town which I think sums up the cultural measure of the town. Most of the people in Queenstown were young 20-somethings looking to party. People were very cliqueish, and I felt like I was back in high school especially after some of the conversations I overheard in the bathroom. My time in Queenstown was also made worse by me being sick; I caught something on the bus ride over.
I did a daytrip to Milford Sound, which is atually a fjord. The difference between a sound and fjord being the former is v-shaped while the latter is u-shaped. One of the main reasons I went to NZ was to see the fjords so I was very excited about the trip. The day was pretty exhausting: 9.5 hours on a bus, 2 hours on a cruise and I was still sick. However, the lush green of the trees, the blue-green of the water, and the white rush of the small waterfalls were a spectacular sight.
On the trip back to Queenstown, the bus broke down which added an additional 1.5 hours to our trip. However, I didn’t mind so much since I got a glimpse of the sky which was filled with stars.
After 5 nights too many, I left Queenstown for the East Coast.
More photos from the West Coast: