The East Coast of the South Island was by far my favourite area of New Zealand.
First stop was Dunedin, also called the Edinburgh of the South beacause it was founded by Scottish settlers. The city is largely a student town since it has one of New Zealand’s largest universities. The pamphlets on the city said that it has a distinctly Scottish flavour but a friend, a Scot herself, said that other than a few Gothic buildings, it was more New Zealand than Scotland. The city actually reminded me a lot of the University of Toronto campus area. Even some of the street names were similar: Dundas, Cumberland etc. I spent the first day there touring the city with a middle-aged Frenchman, Thierry. He was a very kind and interesting man. He lives in Provence however he has no house and primarily lives in his boat. He uses his boat to travel and will dock in exotic countries for months at a time.
The jewel of the area has to be the Otago Peninsula, just east of Dunedin. I did a wildlife tour which took place on the harbour side of the peninsula. The tour was amazing: I saw a royal albatross, fur seals, sea lions and PENGUINS(!), yellow-eyed to be precise. They are funny little creatures and remind me of old men. Their flippers remind me of arms and since they walk on a slant, they looked slightly hunchbacked.
The wildlife was amazing but the landscape was also beautiful, especially in the low-light of the afternoon.
The town has a tiny stone church with a window that looks out to the mountains. I walked out to the church, watched the sunset and listened to the sound of the water.
Next was Christchurch, the largest city on the South Island and billed as the most English of the NZ cities. I initially planned to spend 4 days but ended up staying for 2.5 weeks! Why did I stay so long? Well, when I decided to go travelling, the original plan was to work in New Zealand for a few months. But after arriving in NZ, I couldn’t see myself living in any of the cities I had visited. That is until, I got to Christchurch. The main reason was the hostel I stayed at was wonderful and I met some really kind people. After days of wavering and even going to a recruitment agency, I decided to move on with my travels.
The weather was gorgeous and I was even able to walk around in a t-shirt for awhile. I met a friendly, smiley German girl on my bus over. We spent a couple of days walking around, soaking in the views and eating feta and crackers. Akaroa is supposed to be a heavily touristed area in the summertime, but since it was winter the town was quite isolated, and we felt like we were the only people there.
When I got back to Christchurch, I caught up with another German friend I met in Auckland. We spent a day walking through the city, and met up with his Kiwi friend. She was really kind, and had been to Canada (in fact, that is where the two met). We had good fun making fun of each other’s accents and lingo. Apparently, the word â€œbrutalâ€ is heavily used by Canadians. I had no idea!
Most of my time in Christchurch was spent eating and playing games (Rummy-o!) with my hostel friends. One of the best nights was spent celebrating my friend’s birthday amongst her Japanese friends.
I left Christchurch for Kaikoura, renowned for being a good place to spot whales and dolphins. I opted to do a whale watching tour which is the only activity I regret doing on this trip. I felt seasick, and all you see is the tail and top of the whale. I know it’s still spectacular to see, but for the amount of money I spent, I was expecting much more. And plus, I spotted a whale later on in my trip. More on that laterâ€¦
I did the walk with a dolphin-loving roommate and a cool Spanish couple. Kaikoura is definitely amongst the most beautiful spots in New Zealand. There you have the mountains, green rolling hills right next to the Pacific Ocean. It was reminiscent of Switzerland or Bavaria. It’s Switzerland by the sea!
And the last spot on the South Island was Nelson, technically on the West Coast but will be forever grouped with the East Coast in my mind. After a couple of days waiting for the weather to improve, I finally got to go to Abel Tasman National Park. I kayaked on the first day and walked back (about 23 km) the second.
The kayaking was much tougher than I thought and the conditions were rough. I got soaked and was freezing by the end of it. However, something crazy happened that made it all worth it. I saw a whale! At one point, we were about 10 metres from the massive creature and I got freaked out. I thought it would knock over our kayak. Luckily, it didn’t and swam the opposite direction.
Abel Tasman is beautiful. Renowned for its golden beaches and crystal clear water, the park has a great coastal walk that is popular with Kiwis and travellers. It’s one of the easier Great Walks of NZ. I only encountered 3 people in the first 5 hours. So most of the time it was just me, the trees, the birds, the sand, the water and the bumblebees and their buzzing.
While the West Coast is a more popular tourist destination with the glaciers, mountains and fjords, and many Lord of the Rings set locations, I still think the East Coast is better. Perhaps it’s because I have seen mountains before or maybe it’s because of the people I met. Regardless, it’s a great place to be.