South Island Trip: Day 1-4

Day 1: Wellington to Picton

I was given the honor of the passenger seat for most of the ride down to Picton. We planned to arrive with enough time for me to purhcase my bus and hostel vouchers and then get on the afternoon boat to Picton. As we got closer to our destination, however, it became clear that we were cutting it too close. While booking my accomodation, I frantically explained my situation and was able to be put on the evening ferry at no extra cost- the only downside being that with Daylight Savings now arrived, the 6:15 ferry meant I wouldn’t get to see any of the beautiful sound as I embarked on the three hour ferry ride.

I arrived at 9 into a very dark Picton, as apparently the under 5000 residents don’t make much for an active night life. I was picked up by a shuttle to take me to the hostel and the German driver and I  made small talk where I found out that he was working and traveling around for one year. When I asked if he was going to stay in New Zealand for that whole year, he replied that the thought so in order to “practice my English, get work experience, and I don’t know…. maybe be inspired?” I couldn’t help but laugh at how casual he was about it- like it was on his to do list, but only if he had time. You know… do laundry, mow lawn, practice English, get inspired?

I arrived at the hostel and before I even had time to go to my room and drop off my stuff, I was thrusted my complimentary apple crumble (no where near as good as Heidi’s with apples fresh off the orchards) and went to the dining room. I ate without a word and listened to an older Scottish woman with an empty box (yes, box.. backpackers buy them, I learned, as they can be air-sealed again and don’t have to be consumed in one sitting) in front of her explaining to a group of Europeans how American was as arrogant as Nazi Germany- “No offense.” she said to the apparently German man beside her. You can see why maybe I stayed quiet.

I went to my room- nicknamed “the swamp”- and found that out of the 7 other bunk beds, only one had a body in it. I immediately felt a kindred spirit to this other traveler, for if he was in bed doing sodoku at ten oclock, then clearnely I couldn’t be a loser. Although I couldn’t possibly fathom what the other people were doing in this town.

Day 2: Picton to Nelson

So. I’ve decided that guide books should be allowed to be more blunt and honest in their description of of towns and not make every city sound so positive and adorable. Instead, they should just say it as it is–  maybe this will be my new career path. Here’s an example. “Good for 2 or 3 hours of entertaining walks and views, you don’t need to spend any real time in Picton.” Just save me the trouble, you know?

After getting up early, something that was going to be a habit on the bus tours, and having time to kill before I meet the first bus of my loop I decided to explore the series of walks that overlooked the harbor. I decided for the 1km rather than the 8 (c’mon people, it is my holiday) and started off. I should have perhaps realized that the reason it was 1km was because it was straight up rather than the 8km that went all the way around. Regardless there were some beautiful views!


After my morning exercise, I returned to town to wait for the Magic bus. It turned out to be an educational ride, with me learning all about the timber and forestry industry in Nelson and the South island. (see, “Did You Know” post.)

We got into the small (but larger than Picton) ocean front town of Nelson around 3pm. Again, in New Zealand most things close at 5pm so I had two hours to peruse the sights and I did pretty well— it also helps that everything is so close together. I saw the beautiful cathedral- which I would soon find that almost every town has one-

and the botannical gardens next to a gallery.

They have a small (again free!) museum that I wandered through and there are several small studios and craft galleries in this artsy town that I meanedered through on my way to certain stops. I do, however, have a Lord of the Rings Spoiler Alert! If you believe that the “one ring to rule them all” was in fact cast of the fires of Mordor then DO NOT READ ON.


In this small town of Nelson is the actual jeweller who designed and crafted the actual ring. And where you too can purchase your very own replica for upwards of NZ$900. If you want to read more about the making of it, the website has tons of behind the scenes information.

At 5, when the town essentially shut down and there was an hour left of light, I thought I would head out of the city a ways towards the striking ocean scenery that we had driven in past in order to catch a New Zealand sunset over the water. This proved more difficult than expected as  I never actually made it to the ocean front! Instead, I found the Port of Nelson and heaps of timber to be exported

and the marina where I still took some nice pictures of dusk  

and started walking back into town before it got too cold. I treated myself to a nice dinner- glass of wine and all- to celebrate my embarking on the trip. I will say, though, that I think I’ve figured out why many travellers keep such detailed, thoughtful and introspective journals. I think it’s out of boredom and lack of anything else to do!

Nelson is known as the gateway to the Abel Tasmen, an apparently amazing National Park known for spectacular walks, kayaking trips, wildlife etc. Still, my time was limited and it’s just another thing to add to my list for ‘next time.’  I was on to Greymouth.

Day 3: Nelson to Greymouth

As previously mention, today was the second longest bus ride I would take. (Although! I didn’t get car sick once on the whole trip!) We stopped at a place called Cape Foulwind where we could hike around- and you can probably guess the weather. It was nice to get off the bus and stretch out legs for a bit, though, even if the weather was less than perfect.

We also- as previously mentioned- stopped in Punakaki to see the pretty impressive Pancake Rocks.

The Pancake Rocks are limestone formations that began forming 30 million years ago, when lime-rich fragments of dead marine creatures were deposited on the seabed, then overlaid by weaker layers of soft mud and clay. The seabed was raised above sealevel by earthquakes to form the coastal cliffs and coastline. The sea, wind and rain have since etched out the soft layers to form the unusual rock formations that are there today.

We arrived in Greymouth at dinner tme, and most people went on the brewery tour- as there were tastings and bbq dinner all included in the cost. And since it was the only thing to do. I however, politely declined, although I ended up meeting my new Irish roomates for a drink later that evening. The three girls who I was rooming with were just joining up with Magic the next morning and would be my travel aquantances throughout the first half of my trip.

Since there’s not much more to comment on about Greymouth, I would just like to pause and take a moment to say that backpackers are a rare breed- that I think I misjudged entirely. Some will think nothing of packing a hair staightener, make-up and heels along with their hiking boots and fancy out door equipment. This goes for males as well as females; maybe not the make-up part, but what people consider a ‘neccesity’ (knowing full well they’re going to have to carry it on thier back) would be an interesting case study. It was also somewhat of a shock to me when we’d stop for tea breaks or sight seeing, that many of these young, fit, active sorts who could eat granola for breakfast and not shower for days would hope off the bus for their next cigarette. Just goes to show, you shouldn’t have preconceived notions, as anyone has the right to travel the world!

Day 4: Greymouth to Franz Joseph 

I had signed up the previous day for a glacier hike through these activity sheets that they pass around the bus and then the driver signs you up for. Obviously, you don’t have to sign up for any and can plan your own thing but with the amount of time I had and  the convenience of having it all ready to go when you arrived in the cities the system worked well for me. The south island has vastly different climate and geological make up than the north island and as such you can see everything from forests, limestone formations, to snow capped peaks in the winter and glaciers year round. Franz Joseph is a glacier that’s been receeding for hundreds of years, but ironically, not melting. It just shifts backwards over time, but the guide said that the actual mass hadn’t lessened.

The short ride to Franz Joseph went quickly with two stops- one in the greenstone rich town of Hokatika and the other stop at Ross where we learned about the history of gold mining in New Zealand- we arrived in town with just enough time to through our belognings on the bunkbeds and rush to the town center in time to depart with our guide. With it being winter, the half day activities had to get off in time in order to be back and off the ice by dark. The half day glacier expedition left at 1 and had us back to town at 5, so we got our money’s worth!

I had previously asked the three Irish lasses, who were also doing the same hike, if they’d mind me joining them- for safety reasons. “Fook safety! We could use the cumpany!” was Orla’s reply. We geared up with the provided equipment, including everything from wool socks, gloves, hats, boots, “talons” for griping the ice, and rain coats and piled into the bus to be taken to the site. We had to hike along the river bed for approximently 45 minutes just to get to the base of the glacier

 where we strapped on the talons and headed up!

It took another 45 minutes, just for the whole team to reach the first little ridge… only about 100 meters in. Kind of puny compared to how massive the whole thing is, estimated with a length of 12000 meters. But still, that’s a hundred more meters than I’ve ever been on a glacier! At the top, Orla celebrated with a cigarette, and me by practicing my mountaineering poses.

Yes, that’s another tour group behind us…. and the ax in my hand is actually what our guide carried the whole way in order to chip out rough patches for us, since some the steepest bits had been carved into steps and required maintanence to keep them up.

We had to start back as the sun was already ducking behind the hills, and we had another hour and half to get the bus. We made our way back, starving and freezing— but alpinists! 

After warm showers, we met for dinner at the local pub where some of the Magic gang were going to be. We heard about other people’s adventure (helicoptering to the top of the glacier and then jumping in an ice water pool!) and shared plans for the next stop of Queenstown.  I’ve also learned that travelling is a very social activity for many people, and they’re always looking for the “hot spot” in whatever town they’re in that night. The hostels encourage this help to their local economy by proving “free shot” coupons good at certain bars, or other deals to get people out and spending money. While I’m all for having a good time at home now and then, I’d rather spend my money elsewhere in New Zealand.

As a result I finished my meal and headed back to bed to prepare for the long ride into Queenstown.


4 thoughts on “South Island Trip: Day 1-4

  1. Wow, this is amazingly detailed!! I think the glacier would have been so incredible to check out. I definitely want to do that some day.

  2. It sounds like your travels went well and you’re now a seasoned backpacker!

    I had the exact same impression of Picton. My mom and I spent one day there the last time I visited and after exploring those very steep hiking trails, we ended up going to see a movie (the aquarium has a small movie theater) for lack of anything else to do.

    I’m interested to hear about your adventures in the more southern part of the South Island as I’ve never made it down quite that far. I’ll have to work on my mom to take me there!

  3. I can not believe all that you packed in! I mean is New Zealand really sooo cool or are you just making it sound that way!

    And what a great style of details and funny observations! It is so much fun reading and looking at what you are doing and seeing.
    You are really good at this!

    and I really like that red woven scarf you are wearing! someone who loves you a lot must have given it to you!

  4. I can’t not believe that you went glacier climbing!!! crapons or talons or whatever they are called and all!
    my little love-to-shop and hate-gettting-cold girl!!???
    No way!

    WOW -you are truly pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone!!!
    I am soo impressed.

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