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Five weeks in New Zealand


In pork I trust
Aug 28, 2005
Stamford Bridge
About 3 and a half years ago I made a decision: I need to go on an adventure. Partially inspired by my 2008 trip to Patagonia and partially by my need to get away, I picked my destination - Australia, and began planning.

Not too long into the planning stage of the trip, I discovered a place called Milford Sound. The pictures of it I saw reminded me very much of Patagonia and seemed very much like the sort of place my journey needed to take me to: a fairly remote and beautiful spot in a remote part of the world.. accessible only by only 1 road or a 55km long hiking trail, dubbed "The finest walk in the world".

It was perfect. One problem though: It wasn't at all in Australia.

I didn't care.. I had to go. I modified my plans to spend a week and a half in New Zealand, the rest in Australia... And after a bit more research though I realized that there were many other parts of New Zealand I wouldn't mind visiting either! The list grew, and eventually I had no choice but alter my plans fundamentally:

I was going to spend 5 weeks in New Zealand!

This bummed me out a bit, because I was really looking forward to exploring Sydney and all the other things in on my list... But I just couldn't resist the temptation of the natural beauty apparently contained in New Zealand - in a very compact geographical format too. It was perfect. The southern island can only be traversed in a small number of ways due to there only being 3 passes through the Southern Alps from east to west, for example, and while that does not mean that you can easily see everything in 5 weeks, it does make it easier to plan a trip through the country.

This thread is going to be an account of my travels through New Zealand, back in November/December of 2010, for your viewing, reading, and discussing pleasure. Feel free to ask questions or make insightful comments, as at times there might be days between "official" posts. I don't mind if there's chatter in between those, as long as it's about the content matter and stuff. I know it's maybe dangerous saying something like this in the Tavern, but ... here goes nothing!

And here's an index, cause why not:

The Plan
Day 1 - The Journey There
Day 2 - Queenstown | Photos from the Gondola lookout point
Day 3 - Te Anau | More photos from Te Anau
The Milford Track
Day 4 - Milford Track day 1 | part 2
Day 5 - Milford Track day 2 | part 2 | part 3
Day 6 - Milford Track day 3 | part 2
Day 7 - Milford Track day 4 & Arrival in Milford Sound
Day 8 - Milford Sound | part 2 | part 3 | part 4 | part 5 | part 6
The Routeburn Track
Day 9 - Routeburn Track day 1 | part 2 | part 3
Day 10 - Routeburn Track day 2 | part 2 | part 3 | part 4 | part 5
Day 11 - Routeburn Track day 3 | part 2 | Back in Queenstown
Day 12 - Jumping off a cliff | part 2 | part 3
Day 13 - Through the Haast Pass
Day 14 - Franz Josef Glacier | part 2
Day 15 - Mt. Cook Scenic Flight | part 2 | part 3 | part 4 | part 5 | part 6 | part 7 | part 8 - Arrival in Greymouth
Day 16 - Arthur's Pass | part 2 | part 3 - Arrival in Christchurch | part 4 - Christchurch
Day 17 - Kaikoura | part 2 | part 3 | part 4 | part 5
Day 18 - Journey to Motueka
Day 19 - Royale with Cheese Sea Kayaking Day Trip | part 2
Day 20 - The Abel Tasman Coast Track | part 2 | part 3
Day 21 - Across the Cook Strait to the North Island | part 2 - Arrival in Wellington | part 3 - Wellington
Day 22 - To the slopes of Mount Doom
Day 23 - Tongariro Alpine Crossing | part 2 | part 3
Days 24, 25, and 26 - Rained out on the north island
Day 27 - First day in Auckland | part 2
Day 28 - Second day in Auckland | part 2
The Plan

This was going to be my first solo trip and the biggest trip of my life in terms of scope. Planning took a while! There were a lot of bases to cover and a lot of things that needed to be done, bought, prepared for, and whatever else.

The Milford Track, which I was set on completing, needs to be booked at least 3-4 months in advance, since they only allow a small number of people to begin the hike each day. I also had to book lodging in Milford Sound, so I could spend at least 2 days there. That all meant that I had to be in Te Anau and Queenstown on specific days, which implied other things and made those parts of the trip set in stone.

The planning took a while, but eventually I figured out all the things I needed to book in order to do this Milford Track thing. Oh and the Routeburn Track too now, back to back basically with the Milford Track, because I can be ambitiously dumbassed at times. What basically happened was that I found out about New Zealand's Nine Great Walks and fell in love with pictures I saw of the Routeburn Track. But I was heading to Milford Sound for sure anyway, and I couldn't figure out what to do or decide between the tracks, so in the end I just booked them both. 88km total, with a day and a half of rest in Milford Sound in between. Should be doable! It was 22km longer than the hike I did in Patagonia, plus I was going to be walking alone instead of with a hiking buddy (at least at first), but I was up for the challenge.

A. Arrive by boat to Glade House, begin Milford Track
B. Arrive at Milford Sound. Spend 2 nights there, take lots of photos, do the scenic cruise.
C. Arive at The Divide by bus, through the Homer tunnel. Begin the Routeburn Track.
D. Finish the Routeburn Track, end up in middle of nowhere, await transportation back to Queenstown, arranged previously.

A. would happen only 2 days after my arrival in New Zealand, so the intense part of my trip was right at the beginning. Nice. I booked a comfy hotel for my 2 nights in Queenstown, because I knew I would want to rest a LOT after all that jetlag. Those 2 days of rest would be crucial. I also knew that I would need the 2nd day to book a couple leftover things, buy all the food for both hikes, and so on.. So yep, semi-nice hotel for 2 nights it was. Not right downtown, but a 5 minute walk. Cause hotels in downtown Queenstown can cost an arm and a leg.

This is the "master plan" I went into the trip with. The two hikes are right at the start, near Queenstown, where I fly into through a bunch of cities. And after 2 weeks or so, after I'm done that "set in stone" part, I make my way north through pretty much the only route that will let me see the glaciers and Christchurch. The north island wasn't as important, but I had potential goals there too. In the end I ended up following maybe 3/4 of this plan. Turns out it was a pretty good plan, but adjustments had to be made along the way.

The red parts of the route were scenic train rides that I really wanted to do. Blue is travel via bus.

I had experience acquiring gear for this sort of hike.. Sort of. I did 66km in Chile over 4 days. This was 88km total over 7, with a day (and a half, you finish in the early afternoon) rest in between. and I had plans to complete the 20km Tongariro Crossing on the north island too. So I was definitely in for something new. Anyway, the gear I knew about, for the most part, with a couple exceptions. I ended up buying a whole bunch of new lightweight stuff especially for this trip. This photo was taken a couple days before the flight:

I actually have a complete and probably very accurate item list, so if you're really curious:

Spoiler :

- Keen Oregon PCT Hiking Boots
- Gregory Baltoro 76L Backpack
- Merino Wool base layer set, hat, and socks
- 2 extra base layer sets (made from recycled plastic bottles)
- North Face waterproof jacket & pants
- North Face nylon pants (convert into shorts)
- A buncha polyester shirts
- Polar fleece set (top & bottom)
- Cheap sunglasses (yeahhhhh)
- Goretex sunhat
- Flexible waterproof gloves of some kind
- Waterproof cover for backpack
- Waterproof matches
- 2 flashlights
- Spare batteries
- 16 magnum-sized condoms
- Knife, fork & spoon set
- Lightweight cooking set (tiny stove, pot, mug, wooden spoon)
- 1L Nalgene water bottle w/ holder thingy
- Camping toilet paper!
- Fast drying travel towel
- Sunscreen
- Insect repellent
- Blister kit
- Comprehensive first aid kit, pain relief, bandages, etc.
- Whistle (you never know!)
- Survival blanket (keeps you warm, very compact)
- Waterproof notepad
- Compass (with mirror)
- Ear plugs (for sleeping in dorm-style huts/hostels with bastards who snore)
- Camping soap & shampoo
- Day pack (for day hikes, etc.)
- Extra large waterproof liner for backpack
- Set of 6 smaller waterproof bags (for assorted things)
- Expedition style watch with compass, altmeter, etc.
- Citronella candle
- Knockoff swiss army knife
- Lightsticks (for lightshows, emergencies, etc.)
- The Winds of Dune (to read on plane)
- Lonely Planet New Zealand guide - North Island
- Lonely Planet New Zealand guide - South Island
- P&S 12x opt. zoom camera with 40gb worth of memory cards
- Portable alarm clock
- Water purification tablets
- Portable sewing kit

As you can see, I was ready to go! Everything that needed to be booked was booked, there was basically a plan, and I had all the things. But first I had to get there.
Traitor. :(

EDIT. Yes NZ does have some lovely scenery that would be great to visit one day.Thankfully I won't need a visa to visit that country due the close ties we have with them, after all the Sydney Harbour bridge does connect the two countries.
Traitor. :(

EDIT. Yes NZ does have some lovely scenery that would be great to visit one day.Thankfully I won't need a visa to visit that country due the close ties we have with them, after all the Sydney Harbour bridge does connect the two countries.

I am going to Australia one day for sure, just not sure when. And yeah, I was jealous of the Australians getting their own speedy line at the Auckland Airport. I wish American airports treated Canadians like that :p
"Day 1" - Bus ride to Detroit, flight to San Francisco, Auckland, and then finally Queenstown

The journey there was for the most part uneventful, so this should be short, but it all took about 29 hours, so it is an experience that I should probably say something about.

My flight from Detroit to San Francisco was on a Monday afternoon, so I had to wake up early on Monday, after my own birthday party, to get on a shuttle bus to Detroit. The other people in the shuttle with me were a Turkish graduate student who was flying to Brazil to give a presentation at a conference, a female American boxer who used to be (or is, I forget) the #2 boxer in the U.S. in some category or other and was in Canada to train, and "the ha guy", whatever that means. (That's all it says in my notes, and I really can't remember). I got mentally prepared for the journey ahead by sipping on a relatively disguisting double double from Tim Horton's... my last cup of Canadian coffee for the next 5 weeks.

In the end the journey from my house to Queenstown, New Zealand included 19 hours of flying, 7 hours of waiting at airports, and 3 and a half hours on the Robert Q bus that took me to Detroit in the first place.

There was a lot of stress.. The first flight was late, by a significant amount. When it was landing in San Francisco, there was already so little time left that I wasn't sure if my bag would have enough time to be transferred to the second flight - an international one. I waited there by my gate until the very last second, and had the guy behind the counter check the cargo manifest for my tag every 8 minutes to see if it had been loaded yet.

It never came up. The door on the airplane was going to close and I had to go or stay. So.. I mean.. I went. Of course, but I was kinda freaking out about my bag. It had all the things. I began formulating alternate plans and making mental lists of things I would have to rent in order to still do the hikes and lamenting how expensive it was going to be to rent in Queenstown.. all sorts of horrible scenarios were running through my head.

What calmed me down was the complementary alcohol, for one. Air New Zealand is just incredible. I can't stress enough how much of a pleasure it was flying with them! What really got me though, was when we got up realllly high. The flight was a 12-13 hour overnight one, the moon was out in full force, the lights on the plane were off and people were sleeping.. all you could see very far down below (I had a window seat :D) was the pacific ocean, with a crazy layer of various cloud chunks, seemingly very close to the water, the moonlight making everything shine in a very serene and majestic way. It was amazing. And the guy beside me was watching softcore porn.

So on the left I had an amazing sight of the clouds and water below, in front of me I had free games, movies, TV shows, music, entertainment, my book, and a glass of whiskey, and to the right I got occasional viewings of boobs and other female anatomy parts. It was pretty much the perfect flight, except for the fact that I couldn't stop thinking about my bag.

We landed in Auckland at 9:40am on Wednesday and other than the 3 salamis that I brought with me from Canada for the hikes being confiscated at the "border", everything went great. I stood there at the carousel in anticipation and BOOM my bag shows up. I hugged that bag like a firstborn son. Everything was from then on awesome, except that I guess I was physically and mentally exhausted from all the non-sleeping and travelling and just wanted to lie in my hotel room bed.

What was awesome about my flight to Queenstown was that it sort of showed me my entire trip through the country backwards from high above, over a period of 2 hours - so it was kind of like watching a movie. And I mean the "showed me my trip backwards" thing only in a geological sort of way, where I knew certain mountains, bodies of water, mountain ranges, etc. There were friendly ladies sitting beside me too, explaining what's what. And friendly ladies are always good unless they're annoying, and these two weren't.

I think I got to my hotel room at like maybe 5pm on Wednesday, a long time after the journey started. I actually couldn't sleep for some reason though, so I took some photos of the city in my zombie-like state, starting with the hotel room, which I was incredibly proud of and happy about upon my arrival. There were two beds (I could only use one, but, whatever, I'll take it), an awesome bathroom, and a great view.

I took a brief walk through the downtown area.. Ran into this guy, the founder of Queenstown. I am assuming they mean the guy and that the sheep is just a sheep. His sheep? Perhaps.

There were a lot of pretty things to take photos of in the "downtown" part of town. which was basically a bunch of buildings by the water, there's a cool garden, hotels, piers, etc. So a lot of photo opportunities. Very cool little town.

Lake Wakatipu

The evening was near and it was almost time to finally get some sleep

But first I had to eat. Local beer and steak sandwich it was, at the waterfront. Watching NHL hockey. A familiar start and finish to the "first day".

I was very excited to finally be in New Zealand, with all my gear intact.
My god....that statue....the rumors are true. The New Zealanders really are Welsh!
Subscription post.

I was going to add a sheep joke to this post...but I see it's already been made. :(
... And subscribed :cool:

You mentioned that the SFO flight was "really high". Is this a fact, or were you just talking about jow the felt at the time? I *think* the highest commercial flights go to 45,000 feet, but I'm not sure.
My god....that statue....the rumors are true. The New Zealanders really are Welsh!

Turns out he actually was Welsh. And apparently not too many of the British settlers of the islands were from Wales, but a lot of the early ones were.. So perhaps they helped set that "mood" for the country - because even though I've never been to Wales, it sure felt like it could have been Wales.. if that makes sense. And I mean a lot more than just the sheep.

You mentioned that the SFO flight was "really high". Is this a fact, or were you just talking about jow the felt at the time? I *think* the highest commercial flights go to 45,000 feet, but I'm not sure.

It could have just been an optical illusion, but it certainly seemed like we were incredibly high, much higher than on other flights I've been on.

I did some googling, and it seems that the higher you go, the better your fuel efficiency is, and the longer the flight, the higher the cruising altitude ends up being.. generally speaking. Wind currents can also move in various directions depending on your altitude, so I guess the pilot finds the optimal cruising altitude based on all those factors. So who knows, really. I did not check the cruising altitude displays that I'm sure they had up. Or rather, I probably did, but the altitude did not register with me as something I should remember.
Didn't you take a small laptop with you? Wondering
Didn't you take a small laptop with you? Wondering

Nah. I had an unlocked iphone with me, borrowed from a friend, but the sim card I bought for it at the Auckland airport just didn't seem to work. Guy said it wasn't "properly unlocked". So.. ah well..

I did blog about the trip, but from hostels, whenever I had enough free time, which wasn't very often. I didn't bring a usb cord for my camera with me either, so I couldn't transfer pics to post.. But that was probably for the better - Less time interacting with technology, and more time exploring, meeting new people, drinking beers, hiking, and so on :cool:
My god....that statue....the rumors are true. The New Zealanders really are Welsh!
To be fair, there is what appears to be an ad featuring a woman in the background.

At this rate, we are going to have to start a thread called "Where in the world is Carmen Warpus".

So I take it you are now back?
Don't over-think this, all I was saying is that both the Welsh and New Zealanders like to bugger sheep. That's all.

A handy graph to illustrate:

Spoiler :
From what I've heard, the idea that the Welsh (and Scots) have a lot of sex with sheep actually comes from a quirk in English law. The punishment for stealing a Sheep in England was harsh (maybe even death), but the penalty for borrowing a sheep in order to have sex with it was quite mild. (This might imply that the English were more prone to bestiality.) The neighbors of the English took advantage of this. They would regularly steal sheep, and then confess to bestiality in order to avoid punishment. I believe that the law also prevented the owner of a sheep that had had sex with a man from ever selling its meat, so the sheep thief who confessed to bestiality would also be harming those who had accused him of theft.
I did a lot of research for this trip and I could swear that Kiwis had a significant amount of Welsh ancestry...

There was actually a bit of self-depreciating humour that involved sheep going around on my trip, but Kiwis are generally people who joke around a lot, at least from my experience, so.. there were bound to have been jokes about that. It's all in good fun, at least with the people I ran into, and I traversed the whole country and interacted with a lot of people.

Kiwis were for the most part very easy going and that's the general atmosphere I felt as I went from town to town.. As soon as I got on the Air NZ flight in SF - the safety video was full of humour.. The stewardesses (and stewards I guess) - cracked random jokes and were just awesome. I get off the plane and onto a shuttle bus to take me to my hotel - and the bus driver pretends to be surprised at where I'm asking him to take me and tells me that my hotel hasn't been built yet. I was soo tired and confused. He laughs at me, and after I figured out what was going on and got seated, he asks if there are any Australians on board, and proceeds to make fun of them. The Australians loved it. There was always humour and a welcoming attitude, and I wish I could remember the sheep jokes, because they were probably good, but I can't.
Day 2 - Queenstown

I got 10 hours of well needed sleep in that nice cushy hotel bed. It didn't feel like it was nearly enough rest and I still felt incredibly out of it when I woke up, but I was excited about where I was and about the upcoming activities!

A couple bureaucratic things had to be done this day, mostly the booking of some last minute stuff, and the buying of food for both hikes.. This was accomplished quickly enough, with the help of a cute girl at the local iSite. After everything was said and done I headed back to my hotel room with a rather full plastic grocery bag with food for 7 days (or as I was later to find out about 5 and a half).. It cost me almost exactly $100 and I didn't know how the hell I was going to fit it all into my backpack, which was fairly bulgy and heavy already.

Link to video.

But whatever, I would finish re-packing later. And see how easily I got distracted by oatmeal pouches for some reason there? I was definitely out of it. But there were things to see.

I went for lunch - had some fish and chips by the waterfront, then went exploring around the Queenstown Gardens, which offered a relaxing hike around a small peninsula. It's very close to the centre of town too, so it fit in with my tired state of mind well enough.

Turns out that the Queenstown Gardens were pretty neat. There were all sorts of exotic plants, ponds, things, and really nice views of other parts of Queenstown, the lake, and the surrounding mountains.

Here you can see central Queenstown down below and the observational and bungy jump platform above, accessible via a gondola, which you can sort of but not really see in this photo. (edit: Actually, if you look closely, you can see 2 gondola cars passing eachother)

It wasn't quite tourist season yet, so there weren't that many people in the area. I took my time checking out all the different parts of the park, chillin on some of the benches, enjoying the views, experimenting with my camera, and just still trying to unwind from all those goddamn flights. It definitely helped.

After checking out the Gardens I made my way towards the gondola.

Congratulations, your plan did not include the worst road in the country!
That look awesome! I have plans visiting NZ later this year and I am realy looking forward to it. I am currently in Australia and its pretty amazing here. Nature is very strong around here and makes me feel very confortable together with pretty good infrastructure and all the convenience of modern civilization its quite a pleasure to be here.
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