EcoQuest wrapped up all too quickly and I was sad to leave such an amazing group of people. After an unexpectedly emotional (and tearful) goodbye, we were dropped off at the Aukland Airport to either journey home or continue on with our travels. As mentioned in the previous post, I was off to explore the South Island for 18 whole days- things were about to get wild. If the beauty of the North Island captured me, the beauty of the South Island completely blew me away. There is no place on Earth like it. The first stop on the South Island on the itinerary was Queenstown, a small city surrounded by the Southern Alps of New Zealand, located on the shores of Lake Wakatipu. My friend Nathan and I decided to spend a couple of days in this area before heading farther south into Fiordland National Park.
Queenstown proved to have a vibrant culture with lots of shops, restaurants, cafes, bars, and more. There was lots of live music to be found in the bars and on the streets at night so it was fun just to walk around and explore. We spent a whole day just walking around the city, doing some souvenir shopping and checking out all the cool nooks and crannies. I was excited to find a burger/bakery/cafe place called Fergburger's that had excellent gelato- it passed the authenticity test from a well-versed Italian gelato connoisseur (moi). It was really the first time that I had been in civilization since starting my study abroad program, so it felt kind of weird. By the end of the day, I was ready to head back into the bush.
The next morning we got up early and spent the majority of the day driving to Fiordland National Park, stopping for the night at the Cascade Creek Campsite. While setting up our tents, much to our surprise, a group of other EcoQuesters who were also on the South Island happened to drive into the same exact campground as us. I think we were all a little in shock that we had decided to spend the night in the same place on the same day. What a coincidence! We had a nice reunion of taking a short walk together to Lake Gunn and then played cards in their campervan later that night after dinner.
The next morning, we said our final goodbyes to our fellow EcoQuesters, as Nathan and I were headed off to do a two day hike on the Routeburn Track, one of New Zealand's Great Walks. We took about 5 hours to hike to the Key Summit, which has stunning views of the surrounding mountains, and then out to Lake Mackenzie where we would spend the night in one of the Department of Conservation huts. This particular hut was not fully up and running as it is during NZ's summer, so we were the only ones that were there for the night. All of NZ's huts along their hiking tracks have a wood stove and a bunkroom to sleep in. In the summer time, they are staffed by a hut warden and I'd imagine that it's hard to get a spot in the bunkroom. It was slightly eerie staying there with out anyone else around and it also got pretty chilly at night. Luckily my friend was a master fire-maker and was able to the stove going (after probably an hour of struggle trying to work with wet/bad fire wood).
The next morning we had an awesome hike back to our car- the sun was shining and I was truly enjoying myself. Upon returning to the car we traveled further into Fiordland on the famous Milford Road that ends at the iconic Milford Sound. Personally, I thought the drive itself was much more exciting than the actual destination. I think it was partly due to the fact that the only thing to really do at Milford Sound is to take a cruise, which we decided not to do. We ended up walking around a little and taking some photos before getting back in the car to drive out of Fiordland and back north towards Queenstown. So, if you happen to find yourself at Milford Sound one day, I'd highly recommend taking a cruise.
We spent that night near Te Anau, the gateway town to Fiordland. We ventured into the town to find wifi to make contact with the outside world, which turned out to be sort of a bust. Most places were closed by the time we got there, and the ones that were open had limited to not-functioning wifi- so you can imagine how that would be slightly frustrating. I was doing pretty well being disconnected and unplugged, but when you are independently traveling in a foreign country it is nice to let loved ones know you're still alive ;)
The next destination was the West Coast. From Te Anau, we drove all the way to the tiny tiny tiny village of Haast (it consists of 2 hotels, 1 restaurant, and a small market). On the way, we stopped in the historical mining town of Arrowtown, just north of Queenstown. There, we took a break from driving to shop and look around. I also tried some mulled wine- warm red wine with the warm spices of cinnamon and clove. It is a popular wintertime and apré-ski drink in NZ, I'd highly recommend. And so ends the first part of my South Island travels, the second part includes more backpacking, camping, glaciers, and more, can't wait to share!