New Zealand’s South Island

I kicked off my two weeks in New Zealand by flying into Wellington, at the southern tip of the North Island. I travel frequently, but this flight had wiped me out. Four connections and forty-seven hours later, not to mention a seventeen-hour timezone difference, and I was ready to crash. I drove my little subcompact rental car to the hotel and fell headfirst into bed.

I’m not much for large cities (they’re most all the same!) so I made the conscious decision to avoid Auckland this time. I ferried over to the South Island and began driving down the Golden Coast. I’d planned nothing and booked nothing, leaving all possibilities open.

So I drove.

I drove through a dozen different climate zones and biospheres in a single day: mountains that reminded me of the Alps, beaches that reminded me of South Africa, rainforests that reminded me of Costa Rica, and rolling hills that reminded me of Ireland. I stopped in Franz Josef, a little alpine village at the base of a massive glacier.

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It was a good call that I had made no plans. I stayed in Franz Josef for three nights. June in New Zealand is the beginning of winter, and the tourists were few and far between. But I met a friendly Dutch girl, and then four British girls in their last year of medical school, and then two British guys on their gap year, and before long we had a posse. Meeting expats and fellow travelers is a strange and lovely experience; I think that it is because we all share the same bonds of being in a strange place together, experiencing the same things, unhindered by our normal lives. We celebrated Kate’s birthday at a little local dive bar (meanwhile I was quite taken with one of the other British girls, but I’m shy, so you know how those things go) and we woke up early in the morning, a little fuzzy, and sat in the hotel kitchen and nursed cups of coffee.

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I headed to Wanaka first, and I gave a five-hour ride to a French wine technician who was in the middle of his world tour, going from vintage to vintage in different regions and hemispheres. I was amazed by Wanaka; it’s sort of like the Jackson Hole of Kiwis. Early the next morning I got up, downed a few coffees, and hiked Mt Roy. I didn’t make it up all the way; I’m a weak American. I made it to the snowline, maybe 900 meters of a 1250 meter hike, and decided beer and pizza sounded much better.