The Unbelieveable Scenery of New Zealand’s South Island: Part 2
Days 275-280 (April 28-May 4, 2017):
The second half of our adventure started in Queenstown, a city known for extreme sports and terrific hiking. Our route back to Christchurch was as follows:
In Queenstown, we enjoyed some of the comforts of the city. We took Katie and Justin out to dinner at a place called Atlas Beer Café, which offered rump steak and fries for $15 (this is insanely cheap for NZ). The next day we decided to see what kind of wines New Zealand had to offer, and drove to about half a dozen wineries in the Central Otago area. We made friends with several local wine entrepreneurs, and an adorable cattle dog who hopped in our camper and tried to come along with us. Katie and Justin also decided that for their anniversary, they were going to try skydiving over the New Zealand mountains. However, after two failed attempts stemming from a massive rainstorm and a busted plane, they gave up and decided to just continue our adventure through the country.
From Queenstown we also did a early morning hike up to Roy’s Peak. We got up and began hiking around 3:30 a.m. in order to make it to the top for sunrise. The hike itself was somewhat miserable (in Katie and my opinion) in that it was pitch black, freezing cold, and straight uphill. However, the payoff from the top made it all worth it. The peak offered absolutely incredible views of Lake Wanaka, Queenstown, and the peak of Mount Aspiring. We got some truly awesome photos u there. We slowly made our way down, took showers, relaxed outside, and then packed up and hit the road again.
We had a long drive ahead of us. We were going almost all the way up the western side of the island past the Franz Josef Glacier up to Greymouth. We stayed the night there, planning to go see Punakaiki, best known for its pancake rocks and blowholes. However, the weather was not agreeing with us, and we opted instead to stay dry while sampling some beer at a local brewery and then downing our body-weight in Dominos Pizza. However, that evening we did get a chance yo see some glow worms. We found a local glow worm den with free entry and took the RV over there. We waited fir the sun to set, and then wandered into the den to see the natural light show. While it wasn’t too bright, it was very cool to see the little pinpricks of greenish light on the dark black walls.
We continued on through Arthurs Pass on the last leg of our journey. The drive through the pass was incredible, complete with lush, green forests, winding mountain roads, and rushing streams. We stopped by the visitor center to get some additional information about hiking in the area. Apparently, all the rain had led to a landslide that prohibited us from going to see the Devil’s Punchbowl Waterfall. Instead we opted to do a trail that merged a couple of different tracks and gave us varying landscapes including forests, tussock grasslands, and subalpine scrub. We had great views of the Waimakariri Valley and the surrounding mountains. We stopped at the Bealey Chasm to see the rushing whitewater and clear pools. We also ended up in the middle of a giant bog somewhat reminiscent of the dead marshes in Lord of the Rings. We were leaping from dry spot top dry spot on the trail, trying to keep our feet out of the water. Tragedy struck however, as I leapt directly into a giant puddle soaking me halfway up my shin and then Katie proceeded to tumble headlong into a similar puddle as a result of my hesitation. Wet and muddy, we laughed hysterically at ourselves before trudging on. As a dark cloud formed on the horizon, we turned back and attempted to outrun the rain clearly headed our way. We made it back to the RV with minutes to spare.
Our final day, we continued through Arthurs Pass until we reached Castle Hill. It is named as such because of the imposing array of limestone boulders in the area reminiscent of an old, run-down stone castle. The site was named by the Dali Lama as the “spiritual center of the universe” and also featured in the movie The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, & the Wardrobe. So we arrived there with fairly high expectations. And believe me, it did nit disappoint. We spent almost two hours wandering through the formations, climbing up the boulders, and capturing amazing photographs of this one of a kind sight. An added bonus was that since it was NZ’s off-season, we had almost the entire place to ourselves. I made use the odd porta-potty in the center of it just before we left. So I guess you could say that I went to the bathroom in the spiritual center of the universe (although I do NOT recommend this as it was not in very nice physical condition).
We got back in the RV for the last time and returned to Christchurch. We had some settling up to do with the RV rental place after an incident involving a bumpy campsite, a bottle of vodka, and a busted stovetop, but the damage was not as bad as we thought it would be (whew!). We said farewell to the RV we aptly named “Greg” because it’s license plate started with “GR3G” and headed for the airport. It had been an absolutely mind-blowing adventure. We all agreed that the scenery on the south island was the prettiest we had seen this trip (except maybe Iceland), and that/ the only way to see it properly is by camper. As we boarded our flight for the north island, we swore to ourselves we would one day return and wondered how it could get any better than this.