Kiwi Road Trip

When we arrived in New Zealand from Chile at the end of November, we were exhausted and just so excited to speak English for the first time in months. So, we skipped most of the “must see” destinations and epic tramping opportunities, opting instead for extended stays in Auckland and Golden Bay with just a little adventure thrown in. But we couldn’t leave this corner of the globe without experiencing New Zealand’s world-renowned tracks and national parks. So, we decided to return to New Zealand after our holiday travels in Australia.

The entire country of New Zealand is about the size of California and many of its best sites are on the South Island. It’s small size makes it an ideal place for a road trip. So we rented a car in Christchurch, and for the last three weeks have been traveling coast-to-coast in the country’s grand south. (Unfortunately, internet is better in rural Bolivia than in much of New Zealand, which is one of the reasons for our lack of posts).

We hope you enjoy this photo tour!

The unusually large and spherical Moeraki Boulders lie along the east coast just south of Hampden. The boulders formed in a pearl-like process through crystallization of calcium and carbonates around charged particles over four million years on the bottom of the sea floor. They were then buried under dozens of feet of mud and are exposed by wave action eroding the surrounding substrate, leaving them lying on the beach like a giant’s abandoned game of marbles.

A few boulders are broken open, exposing the golden crystals inside.

Near the boulders is a colony of yellow-eyed penguins, one of the oddest looking birds I’ve seen (and difficult to photograph well in the 50kmph winds that were blowing on the coast that day).

Our next stop was Dunedin where we visited a breeding colony of Northern Royal Albatross, the only mainland breeding colony of albatross in the world. Their 10-foot wingspan conjures images of pterodactyls as they soared above and below us on the cliffside walkway.

Sunset over Glenorchy on our way to the Greenstone/Caples Track

We spent three very wet days tramping (aka backpacking) the Greenstone/Caples track. Unfortunately, cows and sheep outnumber people on a portion of the trail. However, once the grazing ends, one is treated to amazing old growth forest and the incessant rain created dozens of springs popping out of the side of the trail.

It also meant the trail turned into the stream in various places.

A boat tour on Milford Sound offered seemingly endless photo opportunities of mountains rising thousands of feet out of the sea and enormous waterfalls plunging directly into it.

Alex spent two days hiking the iconic 60km Kepler Track, with its stunning mountain views and interesting botany in Fiordland National Park.

I spent two days on the Lake Manapouri/Hope Arm track, which although beautiful, required one sleepless night in a mosquito filled hut where I acquired over 50 bites.

Finally, we have been making our way up the west coast, which reminds us a lot of home (if you took the Cascades and plunked them down next to the Pacific Ocean). It’s been a leisurely tour with stops at Fox and Franz Josef glaciers and some beautiful day hikes.

One of the more interesting stops was Hokitika, where we enjoyed the unusual driftwood art created just a week ago during their Driftwood and Sand compeitition.

In Hokitika, we also got a chance to experience the magic of New Zealand’s glow worms! Unfortunately, the experience was not the photogenic type as the bioluminesence can only be seen in the pitch black of the night. But walking into the glow worm dell was definitely a highlight of our entire world trip. (Google offers some beautiful images by photographers far more experienced than me.) The tiny blue lights of the larva of the fungus gnat illuminate the rock walls around you as they light up their rear ends to attract insects which then get tangled in the silky strands that hang below them. In the dark, all depth perception is lost and you feel as if you are walking in outer space surrounded by thousands of tiny stars. (Walking into Space Mountain in Disney World is the closest analogy I can draw from previous experience, but this is so much better as it is all too real!)

Stay tuned for more tales and photos from the second half of our road trip and details on the final stop on our world tour.

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