En Zed – Part 1Melbourne, Fall 2009

My friend and I arrived in Christchurch on the afternoon of the 10th–sleepy, starving, and in no mood to deal with the unusually intense customs procedures that greeted us at the airport. We survived, however, and picked up our soon-to-be beloved Toyota Platz rental without a hitch from the man who saw “Pike Place Market” stenciled on my canvas bag and proceeded to declare their doughnut holes the best in the world (which they totally are). We spent the night in Christchurch and rose early the next morning for a 4.5-hour drive across the narrow girth of the country to Westport on the east coast. There was not much to see in the actual town itself–I think it’s where nightlife (and, well, any sort of life) goes to die–but it quickly endeared itself to us with its homemade thai pumpkin soup and the fact that we had radio reception for about four minutes as we drove through the main stretch of shops. Though we slept in Westport, our destination was actually a smaller town called Charleston about 20 kilometers south. Once an old mining town that boasted a population of 30,000, when the gold ran out so did the miners. Today a mere 150 people call Charleston home. With a town so small you may wonder why we drove 4 hours out of our way to see it, and here’s why: Charleston is the home base of a company called Underworld Adventures that, among other things, leads inner-tubing tours through a glowworm cave. I’d never been inside a cave before, and I was completely blown away by the limestone formations–the stalactites and stalagmites, the giraffe-like patterns on the giant sloping walls. And the glowworms? Absolutely unreal. I’d never seen anything like it before–milllions of them dangling from the cave ceiling as we lay back in our inner-tubes in silent darkness and stared.

The glowworms were definitely my favorite part of the trip, though we saw so many incredible displays of natural beauty that I don’t even know if it’s fair to say one was more spectacular than the next. From Charleston we drove south to the Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki National Park, and further still all the way to the town of Haast (slightly larger than Charleston). The next morning we took a short walk to Thunder Creek Falls, explored the famous Blue Pools, and spent many an hour searching for any semblance of a radio station. We were utterly starved for music (long story). We spent that night in Queenstown which was stunning, as it lay at the edge of Lake Wakatipu and was flanked by the snow-hooded Southern Alps. It was tourism central, though, which definitely turned me off to its charming facade of brick-lined outdoor mall avenues and gourmet restaurants and store after store of Kiwi merchandise. It was, nonetheless, beautiful, and I’m glad we spent the time there that we did.

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