Wednesday, March 16, 2011

South Island Road Trip with Louise: Hitting the Road

There were so many times that Louise and I tried to plan our travels together around the South Island, but it never seemed to work out. She had some friends headed down that we were meant to meet up with for a bit of a road trip. We knew this months ago (she invited me along after our first adventures together back in December) but two of her friends were moving to the country and had to wait for their shipping container to arrive before they could embark on the road trip. The only dates set were for them to walk the Heaphy Track (one of NZ’s “great walks”) on the 15th of February. Neither Lou or I were particularly keen on doing the Heaphy due to our numerous other walking adventures, so we decided to travel together while her friends were on the 4-6 day tramp.

Hitting the road in "Rocky" our well-loved car/home for the trip!

Unfortunately, that was the only plan we had. She came down to Nelson to meet me and couchsurfed where I was staying for a night. All other ideas were still up in the air. She hadn't booked her flight to Melbourne, we didn’t have a rental car, we didn’t know if we would be able to meet up with her friends, and I didn’t know how or where I was going to get back on the Flying Kiwi bus! To complicate the situation, we are two indecisive individuals who like to please other people and tend to only share opinions when we have a specific preference. Needless to say, planning, agreeing and deciding are difficult tasks for the two of us!

Playing with my camera while Lou battles the rain

We took it step by step and eventually started making progress. Lou booked her flight from Christchurch to Melbourne, we found a rental car from Nelson to Christchurch with unlimited mileage, I applied to relocate a car from Christchurch back to Nelson, and we decided on a few top destinations to hit during Louise’s last 10 days in NZ. We also checked the weather and scrapped our plans to skydive in Abel Tasman due to pending rain. Instead, we took off almost immediately and headed south to explore the west coast.

MMMmmm some good 'ol fashioned fush & chups

We drove through the rain most of the day, settling for fish and chips rather than cooking any of the food we stopped for at the grocery store. The rain was too constant to imagine cooking in it, let alone setting up a tent, so we also decided to sleep in the car that night. “Freedom camping” as it is called in NZ is not illegal, but there are certain restrictions in terms of how far from a town you must be and they typically discourage it except for self-contained campervans. We decided to find ways around the campervan rule by using proper toilets when we could, and of course forgoing daily showers as a priority.

Kitchen/living room/dining room/bedroom... it was a cozy adventure!

Now, when I say we decided to sleep in the car, we did not rent a campervan. We went for the most affordable option, which was probably the smallest car we could actually fit in – a very old two door coupe. Only my belongings fit in the boot, so we had to rearrange all of Lou’s things and our food in order to recline the front seats! We settled in for the night and slept surprisingly well in our cozy temporary home.

Note the Kea on top of the blue tarp, trying to pull it apart...

 The next morning while we were getting breakfast together, we watched a Kea (NZ native alpine parrot) trying to destroy the cars in the car park while heaps of tourists stood around watching and taking pictures. I’ve heard the Kea described as Dennis the Menace – they like to pull sealing off of cars, handlebar tape off of bikes, steal food and other items from campsites, and are generally a bit of a nuisance toward people. Lou and I had been in the country long enough that we were a bit more inclined to shoo the bird away rather than sit and watch it get into trouble, but the tourists were surprisingly transfixed and reluctant to interrupt the bird while it attempted to destroy things!

Rock climbing Lou!

We did the walk to the base of Franz Joseph Glacier (which actually only brings you to within a few hundred meters of the terminating face) then played on the rocks in the valley a bit on the way back to the car park. 

The fence and signs just adds to the view... right?

Afterwards we stopped in town to book our skydive for the next day and headed to Fox Glacier where we walked to the base (but were even further away from the terminating face than at Franz Joseph). We checked out the lookout at Lake Matheson (meant to be one of the best reflective views in the country) but decided to come back the next morning to catch it at sunrise when the lake would be still and we would get the best mirror image. 

The look on Lou's face is partially due to the
surprise of cold water, but mostly because apparently
 big waves on a rocky beach tend to throw heaps of
rocks at your ankles. Ouch!

We then headed to Gillespies Beach campsite for dinner, sunset on the flat-rocked beach, and camping for the night.

Lou, wandering off into the sunset...

We woke up early the next day for our date with the sunrise and drove back to Lake Matheson in the dark to see the classic reflection of Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman. We were the first ones to the lookout and took plenty of pictures! The wind started picking up a little bit at times, but the reflection was certainly more perfect than we could have asked for. After our morning photo session, we spent some time in a café recharging our electronics before it was time to head back to Franz Joseph for our skydive!

Of course I had to partake in the flat rock stacking :)

It may have taken a lot of effort to get organized and get going on our road trip, but a few days into it and I was having a blast. I had missed spending time with Louise, and though our mutual indecisiveness was frustrating at times, we worked through it and made it a point to enjoy our time together. She had already traveled through the west coast, but we tried to do things a little differently so Lou could experience new things… skydiving was certainly one on the list that she hadn’t done yet! 

There it is, the Lake Matheson mirror image I caught before the clouds
rolled in and covered up the mountains!


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