I have been hesitant to write this post. Sometimes words can be foolish things, but as a writer, I will just have to find a way. If you are reading this as someone traveling to New Zealand for a semester, go to these places, do these things, then you will understand.
This is the story of my mid-semester break. It is quite odd to be mid-way through your semester in the same week that uni at home is starting up. I returned to piles of emails from home; my tennis coach gathering us together, my uni president giving constant updates on how Goucher was dealing with the hurricane, but on the other side of the world, life was a little different.
It wasn’t until about a week before break that I had any plan at all, luckily, my friend, Jackie, rallied for me to be added to the roster of a South Island road trip. I am beyond grateful for that. Jackie, two others, and myself rented a car and joined a car full of another four American students on a journey up and down the coasts.
We first worked our way up the east coast, hitting Christchurch, Kaikoura, Picton, and Marlborough Sounds National Park. Our week was filled with tramping, which started in Marlborough Sounds. We climbed Mt. Stokes and tramped for a wee bit on the Queen Charlotte Track, but both of those took a backseat to the time spent at our campsite. We found a space right by the beach that we had, being in the offseason, all to ourselves. We built a fire to keep us warm and I had the idea to find a large flat rock to cook our quesadillas on. It ended up working splendidly, making for a delicious meal. After munching, singing, and socializing had tired me out, I headed to bed in the tent that was our home for the week, only to be stirred by exclamations of phosphorescence. “Not a big deal,” I thought, “I’ve seen that before,” but the yells of glee needed to be investigated. What I saw was amazing. In Maine phosphorescence glitters here and there in the ocean waves, but here, here was something different. It was as if glow-in-the-dark or black light paint was thrown into the ocean. Every step you took, wading through the water, was a euphoric moment. I played in the water for at least an hour, wielding a piece of driftwood as if it were a magic wand. The next morning we utilized a pile of big shells to make hardboiled eggs in the fire for breakfast. I do not usually feel quite as innovative as I did at that campsite.
Our next stop, and without question the best stop on the trip, was to Abel Tasman National Park. There we tramped two days worth of the Coastal Track, getting through about half of the whole thing. We tramped through rainforest like bush that constantly looked down upon golden sand beaches and sky blue ocean water. Every now and then we couldn’t resist those views. We would work our way down to the beaches on the off shooting paths. At the first of these stops we thought of not going down, “too many randos,” we said to each other. We went anyway, and found that all those “randos” we wanted to avoid actually consisted off everyone we knew and loved in Dunedin. There were yells of delight as everyone ran to each other and shared stories of their adventures so far. At the end of the next day, when we got a water taxi back to town, we picked up some of these people and there were more yells of delight.
If I were to recommend only one thing to do in New Zealand, hiking the Abel Tasman Coastal Track would be it. On the tramp I got to know these people I was traveling with, I explored beaches and caves, collected shells, learned to play hearts, at one point nearly feared for my life (don’t try crossing huge boulders with no shoes and a heavy tramping pack), but also saw some of the most beautiful landscapes of my life. It was only two days, but it was an intense two days. Back in Nelson, the closest town, we ate kebabs and fish and chips like madmen while trying to explain the tramp to yet another crew of people we bumped into and knew. We were a bit off our rockers, and if I have ever felt like a stereotypical loud American, it was then.
Somewhere in the planning stages of the trip, before I was involved, someone made the decision to not really plan the second half of the trip. While it led to us sitting around the water taxi office for two hours trying to figure out what to do next, it also led to our water taxi driver giving us directions to unknown wonders of the west coast. For the second half of the trip we drove down the coast and acted as tourists, stopping here and there at the usual sights, but also acting as explorers, trying to and, sometimes successfully, finding these hidden places.
I had two favorites of these places. The first doesn’t even have a name. We followed a dirt road just before Charleston until we hit the ocean. There we exited our car and clambered up onto massive rocks. The waves were huge and crashed spectacularly up against the rocks, giving fireworks like splashes. There was even a blowhole spurting up ocean mist. This simple act of nature kept us occupied for at least an hour. Perhaps the only reason we left at all was because a monster wave, far bigger than any of the others, completely soaked everyone with a wall of water. Only Sam, from my car, and myself were left dry, placed perfectly on either sides of the wave. Appropriately, we shared a dry high-five.
The second of these favorite places was the Truman Track. Just a short walk from the car park to the ocean, there was a beautiful overlook, complete with more crashing waves. Despite the high tide, we went and explored the beach below, running to beat the waves as we went around corners that jutted out close to the water. We found really cool caves and rock formations that the waves had carved out over time, exposing layers within the cliffs. The sight was completely dwarfing, like something straight out of National Geographic.
We continued down the coast, staying in hostels and campgrounds, and then hitting Queenstown on our final night. When we got home we dropped off our car at the rental place. It was a long walk from the University, so the four of us talked and reminisced as we worked our way back home. As we went through the downtown area, George Street, we were all hungry, so we stopped and had sushi. A bit of a walk after that, we got giant ice cream cones from Rob Roy Dairy. (I actually ran into some girls from IFSA-Butler Wellington here!) As we strolled down Albany Street, we found ourselves not wanting the experience to be over. We had been together 24/7 for so long, it was distressing to think that life wasn’t going to be like that anymore. The boys went extra blocks out of their way, just to keep chatting. When it was finally time to part ways, we shared a heartfelt group hug. Now I hang out with these guys every weekend. I couldn’t have asked for a better mid-semester break.