Well, I promised you a new post when I returned from traveling. A week has passed and I’m still struggling with how to even begin writing! The time with one of my closest friends, the indescribable experiences we had, and beauty we saw is just too difficult to put into words (it’s also difficult getting a taste of home and then having it taken from you so abruptly while simultaneously being shoved back into work…but that’s neither here nor there). But I owe you my best attempt, so here goes.
First and foremost, two weeks is not enough time for a thorough taste of the South Island. Frankly, if you are coming to New Zealand for less than a month, skip the North Island completely (at least if you’re interested in nature more than anything else). I know I’m biased and can’t really talk since I haven’t even been to the North Island yet, but I just know that there is no way the beauty here can be surpassed. So while it was fast and hectic and we only got a small taste (geographically speaking), we did the best we could for the short time we had and wouldn’t alter a single thing about our trip. I think we had a moment almost every single day where we were like, “there’s no way we’ll see anything better than THAT,” but then we always did!
The map below represents the rough outline of our road trip (for those of you that like to get oriented). The three major areas we saw were Mount Cook National Park, Fiordland National Park, and Mount Aspiring National Park (are you catching on to a theme??). The latter two were bridged by the pièce de résistance: the Routeburn Great Walk (so we actually walked for a couple days from the dot at Milford Sound to the dot at “Entrance Sign”, while our car was driven back around to meet us). Therefore, I think the recap will naturally fall into 3 total blog posts, so stay tuned!
1 February: Perhaps the least eventful by most tourists’ standards, but also one of the most amazing. I don’t know if I’ve ever been quite that excited to see such a friendly face at baggage claim. The poor girl barely got any sleep during her almost 40 hour trip, but we still had an amazing and full day catching up with each other, skyping with some of the other girls in our group, visiting the botanical gardens, plus grocery shopping and organizing to commence the road trip bright and early the next morning! Not to mention gushing about her new engagement 😉
2 February: 4 hour drive to Mt. Cook. We were supposed to dive right in with an overnight tramping excursion to the Mueller Hut, opened by Sir Edmund Hillary himself just below Mt. Olliver (the first mountain he climbed), but we weren’t able to make the 1000 meter ascent due to thunder, extreme winds, torrential rain, and unseasonable lows predicted for that night. We were fortunately able to bump up our night at the Mt. Cook Backpackers’ so we wouldn’t have to pitch a tent in the weather (or sleep in the car) that night. We took a short hike in the rain (both of us refusing to have another completely down day), but spent most of the day just reading and killing time in the lodge. We met another Ohioan that hung out with us that night and joined us for our first hike the next morning.
3 February: The forecast for the day was iffy, so we got up really early to get in at least one cold and wet hike before potentially moving onto our next destination a couple days early. The Hooker Valley Track has been described as one of the South Island’s best day walks, so this was now #1 on our list for Mt. Cook since missing out on the Mueller Hut route. Unfortunately, we didn’t beat the weather by getting up early. It was wet, windy, and much colder than expected. Luckily it’s a very basic walk, no navigation necessary, and no elevation gain to speak of. As our first hike of the trip, we thought it was awesome in its own way, even though we got too cold and visibility wasn’t great (except for the nice rainbow that kept peeking through).
We decided we’d head back to the lodge when finished in order to change into dry clothes and warm up, then we’d go ahead and start driving again. We had to do at least one, but we didn’t think another hike in the current weather would be worth it. Just as we were about to leave though, the sun started coming out.
Okay, we thought, let’s just do the first part of the Hooker Valley Track again before taking off…then it kept getting prettier and warmer and we ended up doing the entire thing again. It was AMAZING and SO worth it.
And finally, the beautiful lake and view of Mount Cook (New Zealand’s highest mountain) at the end:
After that we of course had to stick around some more, so we did the Sealy Tarns track – basically the first half of the Mueller Hut ascent. The elevation provided some more amazing views, including my first look at a real glacier!
I think we could have easily spent another day at Mount Cook, but the weather was supposed to deteriorate again that night and we wanted to camp some place more comfortable. So we took off for Wanaka and the start of our Mt. Aspiring adventures!