On October 31st, I leave Cape Town for Auckland, New Zealand via a long flight through Kuala Lumpur. New Zealand (their rugby team is known as the All Blacks) is buzzing from their exciting victory in the world rugby championships – first win in almost 25 years! The All Blacks are an exciting and favorite opponent of the South African Springboks.
After a few days on the North Island I head south to Christchurch. This is my first visit to New Zealand, so there’s no point of comparison for before and after the recent earthquake. Sadly, I hear there was much damage to some of Christchurch’s most precious historical buildings.
From Christchurch I take the TranzAlpine Train across the Alps to Greymouth on the west coast and pickup a rental car. The Southern Alps isolate the west coast from the rest of the South Island. I hear the narrow coast has extraordinary beaches along the Tasman Sea, and inland, the glaciers, rainforests, lakes, and rivers are incredibly beautiful!
Greymouth is at the mouth of the Grey River. It’s the biggest town on the west coast and has a gold-mining history. When the gold ran out, the city became the hub of the coal, fishing, forestry, and farming communities. There are many activities in the area including white-water rafting, sea kayaking, and fantastic hiking. Other points of interest include a local brewery, a history museum, and the Jade Boulder Gallery where they make greenstone jewelry.
Some places on my New Zealand itinerary include:
• Mt. John
• Paparoa National, Victoria Forest, and Westland National Parks
• Punakaiki Beach Village
• Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers
• Lakes Wanaka, Ohau, Manapouri, Matheson
• Catlins State Forest Park
• Te Anau
• Mt. Aspiring / Mt. Cook
• Lake Tekapo
• Timaru / Oamaru
• Okarito Lagoon
• Milford Sound / MacKinnon’s Pass
• Fiordland National Park
It’s a long list – so to coin an old expression I’ll play it by ear and take each day as it comes… Driving is not my favorite but it seems the best way to explore the south island’s beautiful country. Navigating New Zealand’s fifteen sounds (fiords) and ferries will be interesting. Milford and remote Doubtful Sound are both a must see! I’m planning a leisurely adventure and haven’t “locked in” many reservations. There are interesting “farm stay” accommodations, where you live on a functioning sheep ranch.
The route I’ve chosen is down the west coast, across central New Zealand, and back up the east coast via Dunedin ending in Christchurch where I began. I will write more as I can. Internet access is sketchy in the back country! I leave New Zealand on November 30th for Phnom Penh Cambodia – too far ahead to ponder now. More later…