New Zealand south island highlights

IMG_6886 (11)Two weeks is not long for a backpacker, but I came here on the end of a half marathon and winged most of it. Like I have told many people along the way, this is one of the absolute few places in the world that as an Australian, I can get to easily (I mean cheap and without having to spend fifteen to twenty-four hours on a plane). It’s been a blast, rekindled many fond travel memories and spawned many new ones. These are some of my favourite experiences.

IMG_6935Outside Queenstown at sunrise today.

I’ve been pretty mobile since I came home from South America, but this was the first proper backpacking stint since. Just raw, mobile, cheap, not giving a fuck, everything on your back and the world in front of you backpacking. It bought back so many memories. Hostel culture, making up ridiculous recipes on the fly that taste amazing, camping, sharing food, repeated conversations, teaching people how to speak Austrayan, hitch hiking, collecting hitchers, campfires, chatting and sharing stories into the wee hours of the morning under the vast blanket of the universe that has been so damn clear and stunning in NZ, leeching free wifi from stores you never buy anything from, sharing said wifi passwords between travellers, sleeping in pine forests or botanical gardens under trees to save money, getting you thumb out, taxing tea and sugar and Vegemite from airport lounges and other places, getting filthy in the bush, swimming in lakes to get clean, looking for places to camp or sleep for free, sharing tricks and trips on places to go, things to do and see, helping one another out, getting wet, drying everything out on the side of the road to the amazement of tourists with money, accents, language, slang, random beers, dorm culture, exchanging music, trading items, breaking things, losing stuff, not caring cause it’s all material shit anyway, comparing the massacre of sandfly bites with others on the road, laughing your ass off, not giving a damn, living outside the bullshit and rules and mundaneness that makes regular life suck and gets you onto the road in the first place. Looking ahead, and never back, being in the absolute raw moment of life and living and feeling so good knowing you’re in it.

IMG_6754 (9)Drying off everything after a 18km return hike to the best view of Franz Josef (Alex Knob track).

IMG_6875 (10)Chilling at the Sound.

Ferg burgers and the Ferg bakery
I’ll admit, if this place existed back home I may say that it is better than Paul’s (if you haven’t had Paul’s well that is just silly). Be it pies or burgers, Ferg knows exactly what is going on, and that is why we’re willing to wait 45 minutes for a feed (no problem, have a pint while you wait). Smashing my first burger (Southern Swine) after the half marathon. Then getting a pie right after. Driving back from Milford Sound at 10pm to Queenstown so we could get burgers at 130am. And it was still packed. Still trying to get through the entire menu, I’m about halfway there. Not to be missed. They’re next to one another so you can really get your swine on.

Bowls of coffee at Patagonia cafe
You can’t beat $5 for a bowl of coffee in an expensive place like Queenstown. Best place for free wifi, friendly staff, good music and of course chocolate and ice cream. Wound up killing hours here and always met other travellers that we sat around with and shot the breeze, sharing stories, and sometimes heading to the kitchen at Base to cook and eat together.

Road tripping
New Zealand has been one of the best places to just get into a car or a van with no plan and go. Forest, mountain, lake, snow caps, endless beauty. Small towns. Friendly people. Hitch hikers and hitch hiking. Costly fuel but totally worth it. Seemingly limitless places to camp or pull up and sleep. Incredible stargazing. Road kill. Having to dodge up to three possums at a time and then having your main concern be animals cause you don’t wanna hit anything else.

Never seen so many people doing it. I thought Patagonia was safe. You can get a lift in a matter of minutes. New Zealand is the hitchhikers dreamland. Though this time we were the ones picking people up – I definitely wanted to return all the favours people have done for me when I was the one standing on the side of a road with my thumb out. It’s mad fun cramming four people and backpackers and food into a small car, making it work, having a laugh, sharing more stories. Unpredictable, helpful, plan-changing, fun.

Total hitchers collected: 9 (Germany 4, Chile 2, New Zealand 1, Israel 1, Switzerland, 1).

New Zealand wilderness and outdoors/hiking
Stunning parks, skies, ancient forests, massive peaks, all sorts of weather, fierce winds, never really knowing if you’re going to stay dry for long, or when the sun will come back, remote huts, getting lost on lesser used trails, walking through dozens and dozens and dozens of spider webs but never getting spiders on you. Being amazed at no leeches. Or snakes. And venomous spiders. But feeling perpetually violated by the ceaseless sandflies. Hoping you see southern lights but still never seeing them. Fiordland deer. Cattle. Possums and rabbits running under your car when you try to dodge them. Silly buggers.
IMG_6705 (3)Wayne on the way up the Alex knob lookout.

IMG_6750 (7)Wayne and I afterwards – a three hour return, not bad. ;)

IMG_6728 (4)Zen out: up high overlooking mountains, glacier, forest, sea level and the ocean to the west.

Bungee jumping in Queenstown
I wasn’t going to do it, but my best mate got me a ticket to do the 43m jump. I’ve done a lot of crazy stuff of the last few years but this was standalone. Awesome fun. An absolute rush and something I will do again. Having your mate that bought you the jump pike, but laughing your asses off about it like mates do and promising to come back and do it together one day anyway. New stuff. Always good. Fuck the comfort zone.

Moonlight shotover half marathon
My first attempt at any form of marathon and the reason I came to NZ. An awesome day with mates, new people, runners, just a good vibe. The race was insane, through rivers and hills with a constant backdrop of beautiful New Zealand. Being blown away by the lads that did the full marathon (42km! respect).

Fox and Franz Josef glaciers
I developed a love for glaciers in Patagonia, and after a few dodgy outings where we didn’t have the correct gear, I invested in crampons and an ice axe. This meant I could go up the Fox Glacier on my own. This was my second aim in NZ. I got up there, quite far up, just a tiny speck on this huge ice field, looking up, down and around at the vast valleys, rock, ice and mountains around. Alone. Dwarfed. Insignificant. It’s moments like this that put you in your place and calibrate your perspective. They’re receding too, and unprecedented rates. If I ever have grandkids, I may end up telling them stories of things that once were… Anyway, glaciers are amazing things. Things that words and photos do no justice. It’s like trying to tell someone who has never had sex or done drugs what either experience is like.

IMG_6597Up high and alone on the Fox glacier in brilliant weather.

IMG_6594A long way down, see if you can spot the tour groups or people at the lookout on the left.

IMG_6650 (2)Wayne down below in the vast valley.

IMG_6641 (1)IMG_6734 (5)Franz Joseph taken from the top of the Alex Knob trail (highly recommended).

Milford Sound
We weren’t even going to go. The idea was to camp along Milford Road and then get back to Queenstown the next morning to return the car. By pure chance, we picked up two girls from Chile who were hitching, they couldn’t believe I had been to Chile and how much I loved their country. Or that we could speak Spanish together and I knew Chilean slang and swear words. In the spirit of Chilean hospitality and general Aussie friendliness, we decided to take them all the way to the Sound. We got in after 730. No one was there. It was low tide. The sun was slowly settings. Waterfalls gushed. Clouds came and went. The colours were like an acid trip, but real. I could walk way out, on my own, again, dwarfed by the immensity of the landscape – an existential shock to the system triggering one of the best moments in my life, up there with Perito Moreno, Galapagos, my first mountain climb in Ecuador, Iguazu, to name a few. I got it, this is why so many people come here. Pure in the moment, now is all that matters, look at what the fuck is around me experience. Goosebumps. Incredible energy. No words. Then and there. Living life.

IMG_6885Milford Sound at around 9pm.

Giant sequoias outside Queenstown
They aren’t far, just at the botanical gardens outside town. I got up at 5AM today to take photos of the mountains, the lake, the sky during sun up. On the way back I passed several of these giants. I am incredibly fond of trees and forests, and have been fortunate enough to be in and around several thousand-year old forests of giants in a few places around the world. The feeling you get when you stand under something so huge, so damn old, just towering over you. As a human, it is mind blowing. We might get 90 years and around 180cm. They can be 4000 and 90m. Sequoiadendron gigantea wellington. Check them out. Crazy stuff.