We started out our road trip through the Southern Alps to an area called Castle Hill. Castle Hill is known for it's weirdly formed rocks that were once used for shelters by the Maori people during tribal wars. We then went to Arthurs Pass, which is a small pass between the mountains that has some amazing waterfalls and awesome hikes. We headed on then to the Franz Josef glacier town where we stayed at a YHA hostel that seemed to be overrun by Japanese students trying to learn English. It was quite an interesting event trying to cook our spaghetti surrounded by a massive number of Japanese students speaking Japanese so quickly I felt like I was in a kung fu movie. The next day we walked to the Franz Josef glacier. It is a glacier that runs between the mountains and into the valley below. We hiked up to the glacier and were able to see the massive amounts of ice as well as the glacier river that flows as a result of the ice melt. After that we drove north toward the Punikaiki Pancake Rocks. Before we got to the rocks we stopped in Greymouth, a small seaside mining town. We went to the rock beach there and were amazed by how we could sit on the beach and see the Tasmanian Sea with the view of the snowy mountains in the background. We then drove the most beautiful drive to the town of Westport. The drive was similar to the US pacific coast highway with a touch of seals and penguins on the coast. On the way we stopped at Punikaiki Pancake Rocks. Scientists cannot figure out how these rocks were formed but they are made up of limestone and fossils and look like stacked pancakes. We then proceeded to Westport and stayed at Bazil's Hostel (www.bazils.com). Bazil's is operated by two really great guys Steve and Ray. We got in late and Ray gave us a tour on the city map of the wonderful things Westport had to offer. We then met some cool people who were traveling on the Kiwi Experience (a backpackers trip around New Zealand) and headed out to the pub with them. It was a lot of fun. The next day we followed Ray's advice and traveled a bit around Westport and saw the seals and the amazing beaches. It was a beautiful place. We then started our journey back to Christchurch to pick up Mark and our Camper van. On the way we stopped at the Mauria Springs to swim in the hot pools that are along the mountains. It was a great time to sit in hot pools in the middle of the mountains and enjoy the view. All in all the West Coast is by far my favorite thing in New Zealand. Not only was the views amazing but the land seemed untouched by people. Much of it seemed very prehistoric. I kept thinking I was walking around Pandora or that dinosaurs where going to come out of the trees every turn. A Beautiful place!!
Once back in Christchurch we met up with Mark and our camper van (that we got for free due to their need for camper vans in Auckland for the Rugby world cup) and headed up the east coast to Kaikoura. Kaikoura is known for it's seal colony and is a beautiful seaside town. We stopped and hiked down a small stream to a seal pup pool (click here for a video of the seal pups) that was about 5 minutes walk from the main road. When we got there seal pups were jumping and splashing under this beautiful waterfall. It was so amazing to see. There were about 75 of them. It was like being at the zoo but full of natural habitat. A very cool thing. We then drove up to Blenheim to visit one of Mark's family friends and further to Picton to catch the ferry to Wellington. The ferry was a bit of a rough ride but we were able to get some nice views of the Queen Charlotte Sound. After the 3 hour journey full of lovely less than favorable waves from the pacific ocean we made it back to solid ground. We drove a bit and camped in our camper van for the night. Our campervan was fabulous. It included a bathroom, hot showers, kitchen, and beds. It was amazing that Mark was able to drive the manual truck through the mountains and hills of New Zealand. In the morning we set out to see the small town quirks of the Northern Island. Every town has a fun and interesting thing about it that we stopped at took pictures of. The was a wooden kiwi bird, a giant gumboot (rain boot), a tank, a giant carrot, a beautiful french chateau, a giant cow, a assortment of large grocery store purchases, and a giant statue of a man sheering a sheep. It was great fun driving from one town to the next to see the large town landmarks. The North Island is alot different than the South Island. When you look at the map of the South Island there are maybe 5 major roads that go through the map. When you look at the map of the North Island roads zigzag in all directions. 4 million people live in New Zealand (8 million live in Chicago when you compare places) but of those over 3 million live in the North Island and under 1 million in the South so the two are very different. Although they are different two things are very constant- sheep and cows. They are everywhere. It is also common to see deer in fenced in areas, as they farm them here. They say there are over 40 million sheep in New Zealand. That means that every person could have 10 sheep. Anyway we finally made it to Mark's aunt Kaye's and Uncle Bruce's house where we stayed for the night. They have a beautiful house in the countryside that overlooks some amazing green rolling hills. Bruce made us an amazing meal of lamb (like I said there is enough sheep for everyone (: ) and we sat by the fire and enjoyed each others company. In the morning we sat in their hot tub in the rain overlooking the amazing hills. It was so wonderful. After breakfast and some coffee we made our way out and got the camper van stuck in the mud. It was a so stuck we had to call a local farmer to bring over his truck and tow rope to pull us out. We reached Aukland just in time to check in our van, make our flight, and find out that Christchurch had a snowstorm and the airport was closed. All flights had been canceled and we wouldn't be able to get on another flight until Wed. (It was Monday).
Which leads us to the last part of our story- The Snowstorm. Due to this crazy snowstorm and the fact that I had a flight to Australia that was also cancelled and rescheduled on Thursday morning from Christchurch we needed to figure something out. Mae and Mark were trying to pack up their apartment and fly back to the states on that Friday also so they had alot to do and we had no time to spend in Aukland. So we sweet talked the airline desk to give us a flight to Wellington (furtherest we could fly at that point) where we then stayed in a backpackers, hopped on another ferry ride, rented a car and drove the 4 hours back to Christchurch. All in all I have now seen the New Zealand countryside twice. (:
The total week was great and although I spent more than I wanted to due to the snowstorm, I had a fabulous time. New Zealand is a beautiful country with amazing landscapes that make you wonder. It reminds you that you are only a small piece of this large world and takes your breath away with its amazing variety of beauty. Tomorrow I am headed to Melbourne Australia where I will stay with my friend Sarah and her beautiful family.