In last week’s episode of “Beth catches up,” I wrote about the first half of my trip to New Zealand. Namely, my time on the North Island, ending in Wellington.
Picking up from there… I took the Interislander ferry from Wellington to Picton, on the South Island. The three-hour trip was lovely, with beautiful scenery and dolphin sightings.
This is probably a good point to mention that I met a ton of friendly people on this trip – mostly Australians, but also people from England, the Netherlands, Canada and the U.S. And in the continuing saga of “the world is small” – At Hobbiton, I met an American couple who used to live in Virginia and an Australian lady who was about to visit her friends in Spokane, Washington (very close to my alma mater of Washington State University). And on the ferry, the couple I met from the Netherlands used to live in Chehalis, Washington, where I lived for 5 years during elementary school.
From Picton, I took the Coastal Pacific train to Christchurch. The train ride was fun and beautiful. The train travels along the coast, going by sea lions, the pink salt plains and one of the main wine regions of New Zealand. I also saw tons of roly-poly sheep! (Side note: In Hobbiton, I learned that the sheep of the North Island weren’t considered rustic enough for the LOTR movies, so they imported sheep from the South Island for the movies.)
Sadly, the November 2016 7.8-magnitude earthquake raised the seabed two meters and caused significant damage to the rail line, so the line is closed for repairs. Current expectation is that it will reopen in mid-2018. For a rather dramatic picture of how the coastline changed from when I saw it, you can see a CNN picture here. I don’t know if it still looks like that, but it’s pretty dramatic.
So then I arrived in Christchurch. Since it was a holiday, there were very few taxis available. I ended up sharing a taxi with some nice British ladies I had met on the ferry. I just had the evening in Christchurch, so I walked around the business center a little. What amazed me was how much devastation still remained from the 2011 6.3-magnitude earthquake. A lot of the business center was still closed off or slated for demolition. They’d decorated the walls blocking off the buildings quite a lot, so it was very colorful. But it seemed like the entire business center was a temporary memorial of that earthquake. Granted, it was a holiday, so maybe it would have a slightly different feel on a workday. I asked the taxi driver why they were still waiting to do the repairs/demolitions, and he said it was because of insurance. Every time there was an aftershock – and there were many – the insurance companies would require a new assessment. Apparently, a lot of people have moved away from Christchurch, because they’d become discouraged or were afraid of the earthquakes. But one thing that Christchurch has done that’s pretty cool is to paint murals in various places. I was given a little map of all the locations of those murals when I arrived.
The following day, I drove to Queenstown. That drive is gorgeous. Beautiful mountains and lakes and rivers and mountain passes and vineyards. I stopped for a little picnic at Lake Tekapo, which was beautiful. I made an impromptu stop when I caught a glimpse of Mt. Cook and was going “MUST STOP MUST STOP MUST STOP to take pictures.” Thankfully, there was a little pull off to park at soon thereafter, so I didn’t cause any traffic accidents.
I adored Queenstown. It was so pretty. I walked to the gondola and rode it up the mountain to see the view. I couldn’t do the stargazing – for which Queenstown is famous – because it was all booked out. Next time, I’ll get those tickets well in advance. The following day, I went on the Glenorchy tour. Again in the realm of small world, our driver/tour guide was from Sao Paulo, Brazil, and the other people in my car were all from Japan (Nagoya and Yokohama)! So that was super fun. A lot of different movies have filmed in the Queenstown area, so it was fun to see where those movies were filmed and learn a little about how they did it. But it was also wonderful to just see the gorgeous scenery.
|On the Milford Track|
After the tour, I drove to Te Anau, the “gateway” to Fiordland National Park and Milford Sound. The national park is also home to the famous Milford Track, New Zealand’s most famous walk. It’s a four-day, 33-mile walk from the head of Lake Te Anau to Milford Sound. When I was planning my trip, I seriously considered doing that walk. But there were so many things that I wanted to see in New Zealand, and not knowing if I’d get the opportunity to go back, I decided to just get a tiny taste of it and did a one day Milford Track and Cruise instead. In the morning, I hiked the very end of the Milford Track – five kilometers from the end of the track at Sandfly Point to Giants Gate, a beautiful waterfall, and then back out. The guide was a guy who grew up in the area and was a former park ranger, so he knew all about the plants and birds and history of the area. It was fascinating.
In the afternoon, I took the cruise through Milford Sound to the Tasman Sea. The morning hike was delayed an hour due to weather, which was great for not having to get up before dawn, but also meant that the boat I was on in the afternoon was one hour later. And that turned out to be a great thing. The boat I would have been on was PACKED with Chinese tourists (because of Chinese New Year), whereas the boat I ended up with was nearly empty. It did rain a little during the cruise, but it was a light rain, so no big deal. Apparently, Milford Sound is the rainiest populated area in the world. It lived up to it, but it was still beautiful. You could see how the glaciers carved through the rock. There were lovely waterfalls. We went right up to one where local legend says that, if you get touched by the spray of the waterfall, you’ll wake up the next day ten years younger. That didn’t happen. But it was still pretty cool.
And that was my trip to New Zealand! The next day, I drove back to Queenstown and flew to Sydney, Australia, where a dear friend from when we both lived in Brazil met me for a girls’ weekend. It’s such a blessing to have friends where you can be separated for seven years and just pick right up. It was a wonderful way to end my trip. I hope I’ll be able to go back again before another seven years have passed.