A few days ago, I returned to Christchurch (and an Internet connection — hello world!) after two weeks hiking and roadtripping New Zealand’s South Island. While my friends at Temple are just beginning classes for the year (and beating Penn State — wooo!), I’m busy trying to readjust to the daily grind after an adventuresome Midsemester Break (NZ Spring Break). Life in the first time zone is strange sometimes.
For fourteen days, four other exchange students — Becca, McKenzie, Andrew, and Cari — and I packed our backpacks into our rental minivan (lovingly named Dick VAN Dyke) and set off on our trip. In this post, I’ll detail the highlights (and the mishaps) of our Midsemester Break.
Abel Tasman National Park
Beccs, McKenzie, Andrew, Cari, and I spent the first five days of our trip hiking the Abel Tasman Coast Track, one of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks. The Department of Conservation (which basically runs New Zealand) operates an incredibly comprehensive hut system throughout the Great Walks and other multi-day hikes. We stayed in four of these wood cabins, equipped with fireplaces, firewood, outside bathrooms, and foam mattresses on which to place a sleeping bag, over the course of our hike. It was such a refreshing experience to spend almost an entire week enveloped in New Zealand’s natural beauty, and to live simply with the other hikers we met in the huts, swapping card games and life stories and supplementing each other’s meager camp stove meals. Since it’s currently the off-season for hiking in NZ (aka winter) there were only about ten people hiking the track, and we became close as our paths continually crossed.
Yes, my mother knows about this, and she was surprisingly nonchalant about me hitching a ride with a stranger. Unlike most hiking trails in New Zealand, Abel Tasman does not loop around back to the carpark, but ends about two hours away from the original starting point. A popular option to get back to one’s car is to catch a water taxi across the bay from a point a few hours before the end of the track, but we figured we would save ourselves 50 NZD and take the opportunity to try our thumbs at hitchhiking. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to us, access to the main road required a 22 kilometer walk down a dirt farm path. Short of riding a cow down the path, we had no choice but to start walking.
Luckily, a nice older Kiwi couple took pity on us and gave Cari and me a ride to the nearest town, where we were able to hitch a ride with a traveling coffee-maker-fixer, who generously went out of his way to drop us off right beside our minivan. We drove back and picked up our friends, who wound up walking all the way to the town! Hitchhiking is quite common in New Zealand, especially for backpackers and other travelers, and I felt perfectly safe giving it a go with Cari.
Next on our itinerary were quick stops in Greymouth and Franz Josef. In Greymouth, we stayed in a charming hostel called Noah’s Ark recommended to us by a lovely couple we met on the Abel Tasman (thanks, Roz and Axel!). Famous for its shipwrecks at the mouth of the Grey River, Greymouth is one of the larger cities on the South Island’s West Coast (which isn’t necessarily saying much).
Franz Josef is the main town for access to New Zealand’s two most famous glaciers. Unfortunately, access is currently restricted to one glacier due to the wonderful hole in the ozone layer over NZ, and that access is only gained through an expensive helicopter ride. As college students, we settled for enjoying our funky hostel and doing a short hike to view the glacier from afar.
Stay tuned for my next blog, in which I’ll detail the second half of our trip — Wanaka, Queenstown, Milford Sound, Dunedin, Tekapo, and back to Christchurch.