Nov 8, 2014

Week 5: The Southern Alps

The farmstead has turned off the “WWOOF” light.
You are now free to roam about the country.

This week I left the farm in Oamaru and, on a whim (because when you’re traveling, you can decide when you’re exploring, eating, sleeping on a whim), booked a bus ticket to Dunedin:


Dunedin - meaning Southern Edinburgh - is a college town thriving with around 30,000 students; the vibe reminds me a lot of Ann Arbor, Michigan. I arrived just in time for Halloween. Rather than join the huge bloc party in the city center, I took a walking ghost tour. At one point, we descended six stories underground into an old war bunker, and there, in the creepy dank darkness, told each other our own ghost stories. One woman told a true story that had happened to her that left us all in shivers.


The Adventure Capital of the World was tinier than I’d imagined - aside from the boardwalk, the central city is a few blocks wide, yet the hostel was several stories tall and built like a family-style hotel. On the walls were ads for bungee jumping, skydiving, and other adrenaline-pumping activities for the mostly 19 year old clientele (I felt too old to be there). Queenstown was my base for the day trip to Milford Sound:

Milford Sound

I booked the 10-hour return bus trip to Milford Sound before hearing that “there’s nothing to do there except take the 2-hour cruise.” I had the intention of hiking, but was told there were no tracks, just a boat terminal and the road. I wasn’t swayed to buy the $92 cruise, and went on the trip anyway… and I’m so glad I did! I found small footpaths just a few minutes walk from the bay. It was so foggy you couldn’t see the mountains well anyhow, only the tendrils of waterfalls that slid down their sides as if the mountains themselves were oozing water. Also present: several very intelligent kea birds, the world’s sole mountain parrot.

Mt. Cook

As soon as I arrived, I booked an additional night in this stunning valley. A hike up Hookers Pass was rewarded with a crystal clear view of Aoraki/Mt. Cook, which for days prior had been obscured by snowy fog. There were other walks in the area that took you could take from the "village" - a cluster of buildings isolated in the valley below the innumerable snow-topped peaks. You’re humbled by nature real quick, to be surrounded by these mammoth giants who’ve stood here long before we were all born, and will endure long after we’re gone.


After arriving in the South Island’s northern town, I took a hike (you notice this is becoming a trend) up Bob’s Bay to get a view of the stunning smaller islands that make up the Queen Charlotte Sound. Probably best not to do this when you’re sleep-deprived from a short overnight in Christchurch, or haven’t brought along any water or snacks with you (I did survive, thanks for checking).

All in all, a very good week “tramping about,” as they say here. Tomorrow I’ll be taking the InterIsland Ferry to New Zealand’s North Island. Next stop: Wellington!

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