new zealand south island - backpacking around the world in 333 days
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around the world in 333 days

REPORT 22 - April 2001

New Zealand - South Island

The automatic doors at Christchurch International airport opened with all the vigour of a geriatric with a dodgy hip. There was, to put it mildly, a delayed reaction that told us that life on New Zealand's South island, an isolated wonderland of earthly treasures, unfolds at a slightly lesser pace. Christchurch's frosty weather had something of the Christmas feel to it, it had been a long time since we had seen the clouds of our own breath and it was not long before we had swapped the t-shirts and shorts for something a bit more suitable. The buses in Australia had been enough to drive even the staunchest of environmentalists to dream about owning their own set of wheels so a few phone calls found us a bargain of a camper van at 46 New Zealand dollars a day. Foot down, it was not long before the snowy peak of Mt. Cook appeared on the horizon.

With 70,000 hectares of permanent snow covering 19 peaks, all over 3,000 metres, the Mt. Cook National Park is the very top of the very bottom of the world. Parking the campervan while trying to dodge the park ranger and his camping fees (they always get you in the end), we set off to walk up Hooker Valley to Hooker Lake and the creatively titled Hooker Glacier. The walk, set against the mountainous backdrop of Mt. Cook, was through some of New Zealand's highest risk avalanche territory where the towering peaks and their burden of snow don't help ease the fear. Walking, or tramping as the Kiwi's call it, proved an economical activity, a must for those who have too much time and too little money and in Mt. Cook, we were certainly rewarded with some spectacular sights.

Heading south to the Fiordland National Park and Milford Sound we must have passed enough lakes to officially give us the right to call ourselves connoisseurs of inland waterways. The town of Milford is rather hard to spot, there's not much to it but it is not the nightlife that draws the crowds. Milford Sound is in fact a fiord, the dramatic landscape produced by glacial erosion that has allowed the sea to flow inland. We took a cruise down the fiord on one of the famous red boats. Mesmerised by the sheer size of our surroundings, Stirling falls, all 146 metres of it, seemed tiny compared to the grandiose backdrop, which threw off all sense of scale. Despite the buzzing of scenic flights and the armada of cruise ships, Milford Sound retains its charms and the drive was certainly worthwhile.

Racing away from Milford up the West coast, we passed the town of Fox but stopped at its next-door neighbour Franz Josef. These two small towns have gained notoriety and generated a healthy rivalry from the presence of their glaciers. These huge moving fingers of ice are now the focus of a booming tourist trade and from either of the towns, in true New Zealand style, it is possible to do any number of activities on, over, across or near the glaciers. Being allergic to anything too expensive, we chose the guided walk. With special spikes fitted to our shoes to grip the ice, we followed our guide on a two-hour hike across the glacier. Negotiating steep climes and squeezing through crevasses, we thoroughly explored the gleaming blue ice so vivid in colour, a truly unique experience.

Now when your downtrodden office worker is stuck in traffic on their way to work, it is New Zealand's roads they fantasise about. When you see another car it can be a bit of an event but there's none of that longest, straightest highway tedium. The spectacular scenery continued on the West coast and not far from the glacier, we stopped off in the tiny village of Ross. Gold, or at least the prospect of finding some, brought huge numbers of European settlers to New Zealand a hundred or so years ago. The immigrants founded the town of Ross but it is to the tourists that they now turn to make their living. Renting a shovel and prospector's pan for the day, we headed off to the creek to try our luck. We had expected it all to be controlled and managed but there was none of it, we were left to our own devices, free to dig where we pleased. Swilling the muddy gravel from the stream around in our pans, it was not long before the first flash of gold caught the eye. It was addictive stuff, we were only finding tiny flakes, enough to keep us interested but there was always that possibility that the next shovel load would contain a whopper of a nugget.

Needless to say, we never found that nugget but it was fun trying. Resigned to our fate as hoboes, we headed off to catch the ferry to the North Island. Our trip had only taken two weeks but it had been crammed full of activities. In our minds, New Zealand had always been that place that we were going to after Australia. It may lack the big, famous tourist attractions but instead the whole place is peppered with a whole host of charming finds. If the North Island could prove to be half as good as its Southerly neighbour then, as one local we met in the pub put it 'New Zealand kicks Australia's arse'.

Jon & liz
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Mount Cook

Stirling Falls

Milford Sound

Walking on the Glacier

Squeezing through a Cravass

more pictures below

The Beginning 14 - THAILAND Bangkok
01 - INDIA Delhi 15 - THAILAND Bridge Over the River Kwai
02 - INDIA Agra Taj Mahal 16 - THAILAND Chang Mai - The Long Necks
03 - INDIA Jaipur 17 - AUSTRALIA Kakadu National Park
04 - INDIA Camel Safari 18 - AUSTRALIA Ayers Rock
05 - INDIA Mount Abu 19 - AUSTRALIA Great barrier Reef
06 - INDIA Goa 20 - AUSTRALIA Fraser Island
07 - INDIA Mumbai (Bombay) 21 - AUSTRALIA Sydney
08 - HONG KONG 22 - NEW ZEALAND South Island
09 - PHILIPPINES Boracay & Panglao Island 23 - NEW ZEALAND North Island
10 - PHILIPPINES Bohol Chocolate Hills 24 - USA Hawaii Oahu Island
11 - PHILIPPINES Banaue Rice Terraces 25 - USA San Francisco
12 - MALAYSIA Kuala Lumpur 26 - USA Washington DC
13 - MALAYSIA Penang, Georgetown 27 - USA New York
  28 - UK - THE END
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Panning for Gold