Mt Cook – the big finish

As the last days of our amazing journey are approaching inevitably, we are still surrounded by spectacular views and rich nature. After the experience at the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers we did not expect too much from a visit to Mount Cook but were taught differently. Apart from fantastic wide-open skies and snow-powdered mountains we were rewarded by close-up glacier views and lakes coloured in all shades of blue and turquoise.

We spent two great days with our friend Benoit whom we had met in Indonesia a couple of months ago and then proceeded gradually to Christchurch, putting in a stop at Arthur’s Pass. There we enjoyed passing through the Cavestream Scenic Reserve, a half-hour walk/wade and climb through an icy underworld stream.

In Christchurch we advertised and eventually sold our dear campervan in a very competitive environment. The city is still in the aftershock of the earthquake which happened roughly a year ago. Many people have left and many businesses are closed, as is all of the city centre, which makes it feel like a ghost town. Taking it easy the last days, we are looking forward to a quick stop in Bangkok and finally to going home to our families and friends!

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Rainy days

The more south we get the wetter and colder it becomes, which makes driving and living in the campervan a bit less pleasant. In Fiordland unfortunately, rain and fog hid the mountains, glaciers and deep fiords of the Milford Sound and the National Park, so we continued towards Riverton. We passed the Windswept Trees which are totally skewed due to the constant heavy seawind, and had to cook our meal in the pouring rain.

For a couple of days, Kate helped on a sheep farm and in the house and garden of a NZ family in Riverton, picking baskets of mushrooms and cooking monkfish. She was lucky to catch a glimpse at the sheep shearing which goes at a rate of up to one sheep per minute!

Later on, we camped out at the Otago Peninsula off Dunedin, where we fished our own meal, watching sea lions and small penguins. Before our final stop in Christchurch we will venture inland to the mountains again.

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From Pancake Rocks to rainy sounds

We continued our way along the rugged West Coast through native rainforest and admired the impressive Pancake Rocks, so called as they resemble giant slices of limestone rocks.

Coming into view further south were the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, which flow almost down to sea level. We hiked through the valleys to see both from nearby, but unfortunately the access to explore them out on the ice was only allowed to costly guided tours.

The landscape changed again as we came closer to the breathtaking Wanaka Lake with its clear blue water lying in a dramatic glacier carved basin. The scenic route took us to neighbouring Queenstown with its Z-shaped Lake Wakatipu, where we enjoyed eating the huge and famous Fergburger and ice cream in Queenstown, both meals in itself. After a bouldering afternoon with new friends we were happy to discover the scenic Moke Lake nearby, where director Jane Campion was filming a new six-part TV Thriller.

Five hours later, the Milford Sound awaited us with heavy rainfall; in this way we were spared the swarms of sandflies that normally ate us alive.

I ventured onto the 32-km Routeburn Track. The rainfall transformed the path into waterfalls and made it nearly impossible to catch a glimpse of the spectacular mountain scenery and both Harris and Mackenzie lakes through the fog. However, one highlight of the trail was crossing a wooden bridge and being soaked to the skin by one of the waterfalls, much larger after all the rain.

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Cruising on

In Wellington, our last stop in the north, we visited the impressive Te Papa museum, which offers lots of insight into natural as well as cultural history. Not without regret we left the North Island to continue our journey in the south.

Already the ride on the ferry offered the awesome scenery of Queen Charlotte Sound, and before moving on we explored the Marlborough Sounds a little bit more. Venturing on along the coast we found some very nice overnight spots, and went all the way up to Farewell Spit, a huge sand dune where often whales strand.

Along the way we did some really scenic walks and caught our own fish from the Split Apple Rocks and in Golden Bay. In Charleston we climbed onto awesome rocks to go fishing in the wild sea. Unfortunately did not only a big Kawahai escape off the hook, but someone also tried to break into our van, entirely ruining the passenger-side lock, despite the fact that there were visibly no valuables in the car. Only a few days later we saw another car that had been broken into…that is the one most negative thing about this otherwise safe and relaxed country with its very friendly people.

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Volcanic craters and Emerald Lakes

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is said to be the best one-day hike in New Zealand and without having seen the South Island I can already say now that it definitely was!

It took me eight hours to complete the 19 km long trek leading from one side of the Tongariro Narional Park to the other. The walk was not too difficult, only in some parts strenous, but with awesome and constantly changing views: From grasslands, deserted valleys, springs, steam vents to volcanic craters and emerald-coloured lakes.

The most fascinating moment indeed was when I reached the peak of the Red Crater at 1,886 m and took the steep descent to the scenic trio of the Emerald Pools. The lakes’ turquoise colours are owed in part to dissolved minerals that have been washed down from the adjoining thermal area. The earth was warm and the steam vents above the lakes gave off their sulphurous smell.

After having crossed the central crater of the active volcanic area I reached the Blue Lake. From there it was nearly all downhill, right before entering the native green forests rich with bird life.

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