There And Back Again (Part I)Auckland, Spring 2012
Something to know about me: I’m not really rah-rah nature girl. Sure, I appreciate a good Grand Canyon, or Swiss Alps, or Mount Everest, but in my regular life I don’t usually look to get up and close with nature. So, when four of my friends and I decided to tour the South Island in a campervan we rented in Christchurch, you can understand my hesitation. A whole ten days without internet and showering (for the most part) and city contact? Really?
I’ve found that not being around so many people is quite liberating. There’s a comfort in solitude. The first night in our rented 6-person campervan we stayed right in the Southern Alps on our way to Albert Pass, where we were surrounded by towering mountains. I’ve never been so immersed and so overwhelmed (in the best sense) by nature. The mountains were covered with brush, and as we climbed around and explored that next morning we kept saying it looked like we had been transported to Mars. Unlike hilly Auckland, the South Island is covered with mountains and glaciers and forests and waterfalls. Everywhere you look there’s a new tree or a new bird or a new rock to investigate, and it’s a nice change of pace from the busyness of Queen St. It’s only been five days, but we already are ready to live our lives as nomads, roaming around the South Island coast.
When we arrived in Arthur’s Pass Village the next day, we climbed up a large set of wooden stairs to see the waterfall. There’s nothing like seeing the power behind a waterfall to make you feel pretty insignificant. It was chilly and gorgeous, and we thought of just living on the platform in front of the waterfall, treehouse-style, for the rest of our lives. That night we stayed in Hokitika, a small beachside community, and met the nicest families in our campervan parking spot. There are penguins on the South Island beaches, and although we didn’t see any when we explored the beach, everyone still enjoyed picking up greenstone and jade on the sand. There was also an area full of glow worms, and so in the dark of the night we crossed the road to see them in the trees. They shone with an eerie white-green light, and it was beautiful to see nature’s own nightlight.
Yesterday we saw the Franz Josef glacier. You can take tours that bring you right into the glacier with some very capable and spunky guides, but because we only had a couple of hours we just walked the trail that led to the base of the glacier. I thought the power of the waterfall we had seen earlier was immense, but seeing the rapidly twisting and raging current from the run-off of the glacier put that waterfall to shame. The view seemed impossible, (“how was it so tall? why am I so short? there’s snow!”) like it had been painted, or the sky was a giant hologram, but it was so incredibly real. Also, it was a hilarious dichotomy and a testament to how diverse New Zealand is that we started at a beach in the morning and ended at a glacier that night.
Right now we’re on our way to Haast and Queenstown, driving past more glaciers and winding around misty mountains. Although we’re usually a talkative bunch, when we start driving it’s silent. There’s so much to see my eyes feel overstimulated, like they can’t possibly look at every detail or they’ll explode out of my face. And there’s so much to see! Every gravel path and one-way bridge provides a new glimpse into a different land.
I’m so incredibly glad to be sharing this experience with my friends. When it gets dark we take turns making dinner on our little burners, playing cards, and having sing-alongs. We’ve gone through most of the Led Zeppelin catalogue, as well as Queen and The Beatles (“Yellow Submarine” is our favorite), and it makes the time fly by when we’re singing and cooking and laughing. I know that this experience is made richer and deeper by having friends to spend it with, especially friends that enjoy playing MASH, killing mosquitos with vigor and dancing so wildly I’m afraid our campervan will roll off the side of a mountain.
We’re headed for more adventure as we head to Queenstown and slowly drive back to Christchurch. We might smell a bit, but every morning brings a new world to explore. See you soon!
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