Posts Tagged ‘Cook Strait’

Before we use this forum to focus entirely on the present and future, we want to make sure we don’t overlook the cool sights and experiences we had on our journey to Queenstown. Without further ado, here’s a glimpse into the rearview mirror from our South Island road trip.

Cook Strait route

Interislander route from Wellington to Picton

We met my mom in Wellington and boarded the Intersislander for the three-hour Cook Strait crossing. At its narrowest point, the Cook Strait is 22km. I know. How can the ferry ride last longer than a Tarantino movie? For one, the Strait is regarded as one of the world’s most dangerous and unpredictable bodies of water. Its ferocious swells have claimed many a ship, including a 1961 passenger ferry. Fortunately we crossed on a perfect day. The other reason the trip is so long is because the ship crawls through the winding Queen Charlotte Sound. Unless you’re in a rush, this is a good thing. The views are unbeatable and every turn seems to reveal a distinct and perfect landscape.

Kiwis spend billions every year to keep their water this blue

Kiwis spend billions every year to keep their water this blue


Known as the gateway to the South Island, Picton has a small year-round population that balloons in the peak months of January and February. We used airbnb  to find a place to stay. (Airbnb is a vacation rental service that helps you find houses or rooms to rent. Sometimes you’ll have the place to yourself, other times you’ll stay with the owners.) Our first airbnb experience was an amazing one. We stayed with Beth, an expat from Chicago who is doing a similar  year-long trip. She was a gracious host and even organized a dinner party on our last night. We ate fresh grouper that Beth had caught and met a couple of her friends, including one who looks exactly like the actor Damien Lewis (aka Brodie from Homeland).

the resemblance is uncanny, right?

the resemblance is uncanny, right?

Picton also has a range of hiking trails, so we made our first foray into “tramping” with a mild three-hour hike up the Snout Track.

thanks to frauleins Gretchen and Sigrid for snapping this picture

we met a couple nice German girls at the top who snapped this photo for us. thanks Gretel and Sigrid!


We picked up our rental car in Picton and headed south-west towards Greymouth. On the way out of town we made a slight detour in Marlborough wine country.

Fromm Vineyard - we promise it wasn't 11:00am

tasting at Fromm Vineyard – we promise it wasn’t 11:00am (we can’t promise it wasn’t 10:45)

When we pulled into Greymouth and checked into our hostel two things became obvious. One: Global Village Backpackers is the nicest hostel we’ve encountered in New Zealand.

clean, cozy and affordable. what more do you need?

clean, cozy and affordable. what more do you need?

Two: Greymouth is the arm pit of the South Island. Industrial, dark and dreary. It does have a long coast line filled with scenic trails and views, but we were excited to depart for a livelier destination. En route to Fox Glacier we stopped at the Hokitika Gorge (thanks to Kathy Bliss!), which is a bit off the beaten path but well worth the detour. Glacial runoff mixes with earthy minerals to give the water a milky turquoise color. And the suspense bridge is straight out of Indiana Jones.


Fox Glacier

In case you missed it.


According to all people, road signs and navigational systems we consulted, the drive from Fox to Queenstown should take four-hours. It took us closer to seven. Granted, we got distracted by some worthy pit stops:

there we go with those waterfalls again

there we go with those waterfalls again

Our four day stint in Queenstown was a mix of business and pleasure. My mom treated us to a stay at the Heritage Hotel–a nice change of pace after hostel living–and Meg and I pounded the pavement to hand out resumes in hope of lining up jobs after our road trip. Of course, we gave ourselves plenty of time to relax:

this ones for the mixologist on Keene Street

this one’s for the mixologist on Keene Street

And explore some of Queenstown’s scenic tramping:


At the top of the Seven Mile track


I will forever link Dunedin with disappointment. And not in any way because of the destination. Dunedin is a hip, vibrant–if somewhat meteorologically bleak–college town. It just so happens this is where we watched the Patriots lose the AFC championship game. Fortunately Meg knew the perfect way to cope with the defeat.

a tour of Speights Brewery concluded with 30 minutes of unlimited access to their six taps

a tour of Speights Brewery concluded with thirty minutes of unlimited access to their taps

Despite Dunedin’s reputation for grim weather, we lucked out with two days of sunshine. This allowed us to visit the nearby Otago Peninsula where we met a Department of Conservation agent named Jasmine, caught a glimpse of a yellow-eyed penguin, and ran down this epic hill:

the walk back up was not as enjoyable

the walk back up was not as enjoyable


A massive earthquake in February 2011 destroyed the center of Christchurch. People told us that it was formerly the heart and soul of the South Island; perhaps New Zealand’s most beautiful city. But two years have passed since the quake and the city still lies in ruins. Comparing it to a post-war European city would not be hyperbolic.


Many businesses have closed with no intention of re-opening. Just trying to find a hostel we noticed that several of the ones in our travel books were gone. Residents have departed in search of brighter futures and tourism has dried up. The rebuilding effort is underway, but it is slow and deliberate. The residents who have remained are hurting but (in typical kiwi fashion) are far from defeated. We thought this uplifting poster captured the city’s fighting spirit:


Many of the merchants are determined not to let the disaster force them out of Christchurch. They have opened temporary stores in old shipping containers. The ad hoc marketplace is called “Re-start Village” and it’s an inspiration.


Sydney, Australia

Nothing fuels culture shock like leaving a country with a 20:1 sheep-to-person ratio and arriving in Sydney on Australia day. January 26, the Australian July 4, was a perfect day. We took advantage of the weather and treated ourselves to our own walking tour of downtown Sydney. Highlights range from the obvious (Opera House, Government House, Botanic Gardens) to the obscure (free smoothie samples in Hyde Park, antique automobile show aptly named “Car-nival”).

It looked a lot bigger and whiter during the opening ceremony for 2000 olympics

It looked a lot bigger and whiter on TV during 2000 olympics (we suspect China was involved)

Unfortunately the weather for the rest of the week was wet and grey. Sydney is famous for its beaches (Bondi, Manly) and we were determined not to let the forecast dictate our trip.

we don't believe in the phrase "not a beach day"

we don’t believe in the phrase “today’s not a beach day”

We also heard great things about the Blue Mountains and decided to make the two-hour drive to hike them rain or shine. We lucked out with a couple hours of sunlight and had a lovely afternoon tramping through the foothills and making a picnic on the porch of a chocolate shop.

in front of the "Three Sisters" rocks at the Blue Mtns

in front of the “Three Sisters” rock formation

It’s tough to judge a place when it’s raining for ninety percent of your visit. (I remember looking at colleges and ruling them out because it down-poured on the tour. Shallow, yes. But what 17-year-old is capable of seeing the big picture?) So our perception of Sydney was skewered by the weather and we didn’t catch it on its best week. Having said that, Meg and I were ready to get back to New Zealand and we probably would have felt this way after a week of sunshine. The traffic, lines, $9 beers and abrasive bus drivers reminded us why we wanted to leave the last big city we lived in. Like New York, I suspect Sydney is fine when you’re visiting for a week, but living there is a whole different ballgame.

While it was sad to say goodbye to my mom after such a great month, we found a silver lining in returning to a place that we are excited to call home for the next six months.


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On our last day in Wellington I was almost literally swept off my feet during a morning run with Eliott’s mom, Lisa. While jogging along the waterfront we were stopped in our tracks by gale force winds. But it’s not a physical sweep I want to talk about here. It’s a metaphoric one – the way that New Zealand swept me off my feet with its culture and beauty.

May the road rise up to meet you, May the wind be always at your back

Lisa has just flown in to join us on our NZ adventures for the next month. We are taking her to uncharted territory- the South Island and then Sydney. Before making our pilgrimage across the Cook Strait we took her on a whirlwind tour of the capital city. Seeing Wellington through Lisa’s eyes has rejuvenated our travelling spirits. After living here for almost two months we feel like we’ve become jaded Wellingtonians. We’ve fully adopted the relaxed vibe that permeates NZ and perusing vintage shops along Cuba Street just feels like a normal afternoon for us. So hearing Lisa marvel at all the unique features of New Zealand reminded us of our early days here and how invigorating the whole experience has been.

Rediscovering the calming and restorative effects that a tramp through the great outdoors has on the body and mind

Rediscovering the calming and restorative effects that a tramp through the great outdoors has on the body and mind

Believe it or not, it’s still easy to settle into your daily routines and forget the bigger picture on a trip like this. Lately we’ve been filling our thoughts with the little things- what are we going to eat for dinner? where are we going to settle in February? how is the budget doing? etc. etc. Now granted, these are pretty nice concerns to have in the scheme of things, but they do distract you from the bigger picture: we’re backpacking through a foreign country with nothing but each other and our savings. Lisa has brought back memories from the months leading up to this trip. We were filled with so much excitement and enthusiasm, but also an overwhelming notion that we had no idea what lay ahead of us. We vowed that we would never take a day for granted and when given the option we would always chose the risky, the new, and the bold.

Embarking across the Cook Strait with only a vague idea of what will lay ahead of us. The sky is the limit

Embarking across the Cook Strait with only a vague idea of what lies ahead. The sky is the limit

Lisa’s visit makes us realize that as a traveler you have to continually remind yourself of this bigger picture and not get bogged down by the day-to-day things. This reminder can be anything, a visit from an old friend, a brief conversation, or even a small token you keep by your side. Regardless of the form, it’s vital to find one that works for you and stick with it. It’s important to keep the ideas and aspirations that originally inspired you fresh in your mind so that you don’t pass up opportunities for discovery. While travelling you must make the most of every day because each one is a gift to be treasured, not time to be wiled away.

Nothing makes you value your days like the awe-inspiring Queen Charlotte Sound

Nothing makes you value the day like the awe-inspiring Queen Charlotte Sound

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